Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Unpublished, Archived Airline Junk: Gate Agents Own You

Was intended to be an introduction for a book, then my publisher went bankrupt.  Nice.  Enjoy!!
The Customer Service/Gate Agent: (CSA)
The gate agent is undeniably the most powerful person you will come into contact with at the airline, and very likely the lowest paid. 
The gate agent has direct access to your reservation and knows a lot more about you than you may think. 
If you think simply putting you in a seat is their sole job function you are sadly mistaken. With the information contained in your reservation, they are privy to personal details that say a lot about you.  In about 60 seconds I could pull up a reservation and tell whether a passenger was married, where they worked,  how often they flew, their email address, their telephone number, their approximate income, and about 30 ways to screw them over.  Not that I would, but I could.
In the following short narratives, actually, in this entire book, you will discover that the best way to get to where you’re going is to keep the CSA on your side.  Without them backing you, you’re essentially screwed.
Before delving into this topic, it’s important to learn the kind of person you are dealing with. I know you probably want to start reading about all the chaos, which is understandable.  The most useful CSA to you is one who has empathy and expresses compassion.  In order to have the CSA empathize with you, they need a clear understanding of what is going on with your situation through calm, rational communication. 
It may be hard to be rational when your plane is delayed and you’re about to miss the job interview of a lifetime.  Screaming your head off and verbally abusing the agent may make you feel better and earn you street credit, but it’s not going to get you to your destination.   
In any given irregular ops situation, there are potentially thousands of other people in the same airport sharing your frustration, many of them taking that out on the front line employees.   This is not the first time nor the last time a CSA will hear how much you hate their airline or may never fly them again. As soon as you walk away, the next person in line is ready to berate them.  It’s unfortunately, the norm.
So, one tip I can give you is to flip the tables and empathize with the agent.  They have quite a bit on their plate as well, and if you really want to be noticed, have a shred of humanity.
Most irregular operations happen at night, when flight choices are limited and inclement weather seems to be the biggest problem.  Here is what your typical CSA is dealing with based on my experiences.    If you ,at any point, think to yourself, “If they hate their job, they should quit.” , then you are exactly the type of person who can learn from this book.  

LOW PAY, UNDESIREABLE SCHEDULE:  If your flight drama is at night, then the employees on the floor that night are the least senior.  Particularly if you encounter trouble on a Saturday or Sunday.   Most airlines are unionized and seniority is everything.
The night shifter may have a start time of 5pm with a scheduled end time of 10pm, but in the airline world,  the end time is whenever the drama is over.  The morning shift agents are always relieved by the 5pm starts, but there is no relief for the night shift until the 5am day shifters return. Therefore, if chaos ensues, they are stuck there as long as you are, regardless of babysitter availability, transportation, or any other seemingly valid reason.
Your typical night agent will be a part-timer. Airlines cut capacity and full time employment to save on overtime and benefits.  Working part-time for an airline is a bitch.  You end up working more than the full-timers due to all the mandatory overtime in the wee hours.  There is much turnover because most new hires walk off the floor after they get tired of being treated terribly by  passengers , other employees, and management.
You would need to have at least 10 years of seniority with an airline before you even began to think about the possibility of holding a cushy day shift. The day agents that have done their  time have survived plenty of layoffs and mergers, have been battle-tested and will insist that the lowly new hire put in their time as well.  
When I was working for the airline in 2010, I’m sad to admit that my income was low enough to qualify myself and many of my coworkers  for food stamps and other government aid. We did get a benefit package that included insurance coverage and free, unrestricted space available flying for ourselves and our immediate family members. 
To find a part time job that offers health benefits is rare in the current economy , but to be able to fly anywhere in the world for free is unique only to the airline industry.  The traveling is addictive and why most people stick it out and find ways to make it work.
It was not unusual during my time in the industry to work an entire shift without food, drink, or a bathroom break.   Even though the union mandates certain break times, if you walk off and leave a passenger or coworker with an unresolved situation, you would be reprimanded severely, and would have to follow a strenuous and impersonal grievance system to restore your good standing. 
The later the flight drama starts, the longer your agent has been and will be on shift. The bigger the plane, the longer the flight, the louder the crowd, your agent can empathize.  If you’re stuck, they’re stuck.  
Personally, I never expected sympathy or even understanding from a passenger.  If you kept your cool, you were going to get out.  If you treated me with respect,  you were a rare bird and I would move the moon for you.
I can’t speak for all agents, but I can say that breaking a company rule to get a passenger somewhere wasn’t an option unless I had a passenger worth getting written up over.  The following are stories of passengers who weren’t exactly on my good side and the cardinal rules they broke to get there.



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