Reply To: Service attitudes are infectious

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Greetings to all!! One of the more dubious benefits of living way up north is that we have few options but to use LCAs for short-haul European travel unless we want the hassle of a change en route. So, on Friday last, I was up early and at my local LCA airport (where 95% of all services are provided by the one carrer) for my 06.30 departure and was faced with indifferent, at times rude ground service by airport employees in security and elsewhere. This is the norm at this airport and a major change from what used to be a cheerful and helpful place (albeit with few flights) a few years ago.

This got me thinking that ground handling service now mirrors exactly that on board the dominant carrier at that airport – in other words, the commercial pressures applied by the airline for local ground handlers to act as proxy airline police and weigh hand baggage, charge crazy amounts for even one kilo overweight, police the tearing of boarding passes (to exactly two thirds across the printed on-line document) etc. has forced them to behave just like their air bound colleagues.

One possible explanation can be found in a recently published American book on air rage and its origins by Arlene Hunter
(Hunter, J.A. (2009) Anger in the Air. Combating the Air Rage Phenomenon, Farnham: Ashgate). This analysis, while certainly flawed from a European perspective (Wales is part of England, for example) has, as its central argument, that air rage by passengers is a direct consequence of deteriorating levels and quality of service by air carriers (and she cites the horror stories from the US of extended taxiway waits without service etc etc). One key aspect of this is that work pressure, poor pay and low status have undermined cabin crew self-esteem and infected their attitudes to service. This service culture change Hunter blames ultimately on the impact of deregulation in the late 1970s and the commercial, competitive pressures faced by airlines to reduce costs since then, particularly with respect to crew pay and conditions. With some notable exceptions, cabin crew pay is now very low in both the US and Europe (starting arounf £12,000 in some instances) and there are press reports of flight deck crew on regional carriers in the US earning as little as $16,000 per annum.

Hunter argues that if you treat people like dirt (cabin crew) and they pass this attitude on in their service to passengers, safety valves will blow and air rage is one outcome. Clearly, there are a range of other factors at play here (which the author does acknowledge) but this is surely one aspect that airlines need to think about. When the same pressures and the same attitude are then passed on to ground handling staff, the phenomenon of airport rage becomes all the more likely – my ordeal on Friday morning certainly made me realise the possibility and a few of my fellow passengers looked close to bursting as they were subject to police state treatment.

Apologies for the ramble, but this service situation appears to have got out of hand and airlines and their partners seem disinclined to see this as even partly their responsibility. And I know that some responses to this post will paint the other side of the argument, citing BA and BASSA and the crazy goings on there. But BA is very much the exception today and should not be used as the norm here.

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