Please Be Nice To Those Working In Travel (Hopefully An Obvious Reminder?)

Filed Under: Travel

I figured a reminder here couldn’t hurt…

This is a tough time for those working in travel

Obviously this is an incredibly challenging time for many people, not just those working in travel. However:

  • This blog is about travel
  • Those working for airlines and hotels are largely being impacted even more negatively than those in many other industries

I’m sure I’m not alone in absolutely loving the airline and hotel industry. If you’re reading this, chances are pretty good that you feel similarly. It’s heartbreaking to see the industry collapse the way it has.

If it’s tough for me to watch, I can only imagine how tough it is for those working for airlines, hotels, etc. Those employees who are working are facing more stressful conditions than ever before, while many others are being furloughed, and virtually everyone is worried about their job security.

Separate people from policies

I think it’s always worth being nice, even in the best of times. However, now more than ever I think it’s important to recognize that small gestures go a long way. I bring this up for a couple of reasons.

For one, I think it’s important to separate frontline employees from policies. I’ve had readers share all kinds of correspondence with me that they had with airlines and hotels, in particular situations where customers are frustrated by cancellation policies or what not.

While many people are nice and to the point, I also think some people aren’t doing a very good job separating frontline workers from policies.

Imagine working in customer service at an airline or hotel right now — it must suck. They don’t make the customer unfriendly policies, even if they’re denying you a refund in violation of government regulations.

I think it’s valuable to at least acknowledge that. Whether that comes in the form of “I know you don’t make the rules, but…” or simply saying “thanks for working, and please understand my frustration isn’t directed at you.”

Being nice goes a long way

I’ve had to call to cancel a fair bit of travel the past few days, and across the board the airline representatives I spoke with sounded dead inside, for lack of a better way of putting it.

They’re basically just cancelling tickets all day, and are probably dealing with constantly frustrated customers as well. I don’t blame them for not being chipper.

I’ve made a point of trying to express my gratitude at the end of every call.

Usually something like “I know these times are tough, so I just want to say thank you for working, I appreciate your help, and hopefully things get better soon.”

Across the board that acknowledgement has been so well received, and more often than not the response has been something along the lines of “thank you for saying that, I needed it.”

Bottom line

Like I said, a lot of people are in a tough spot right now, so the above doesn’t just apply to the travel industry. However, I think it’s sometimes worth reminding people that a little bit of kindness can go a long way, especially in tough times.

This is particularly true when it comes to travel brands having really frustrating policies, and recognizing that the frontline employees who have to enforce these policies didn’t make the rules.

  1. I agree with you. But this goes both ways. They likely feel dead inside because customers have been complaining due to their companies poor policies. It’s not the customers job to bend over and then later thank them for the opportunity.

    I’ve only spoken with delta reps and they have been chipper as ever.

  2. If there is a survey at the end of the call, I make sure to tell the call center rep who have been helpful or at the very least compassionate with my issue that I’m giving him/her the highest possible rating. That always always cheers them up since it’s something their manager can see and hopefully they can keep their job.
    At the same time, I can see the frustration of people who may have lost their job recently and just needed the airline refund ASAP to help their finances…. thus for the time being they won’t be able to tell the difference between the airline policy and frontline employee.
    At the end of the day, call center reps are fortunate to have a job right now.

  3. While your premise is a good one, and I do believe that kindness does go a long way, there is also a part of me that says, “Why go out of your way for people that showed no empathy or ever went out of their way for me over the past years?”

    Operational nightmares, surly front line staff, entitled FA’s, massive devaluations, nickle and diming fees, diminished service, impossible redemptions, and on and on and on. And now we are supposed to be extra nice to them? Why? I won’t be rude like so many of them were over the past few years, including front office management. But I certainly am not going to send them flowers of thanks “during these difficult times.”

  4. @stuart
    I 100% agree with you. While I won’t be outwardly rude or hostile, why should I be extra super nice to the TSA agents who have bossed us around for years? Or the flight attendants who roll their eyes at you? Or the check-in agent who takes their sweet time tagging your bag?

    I called United to make a change to an upcoming flight (essential travel) and the rep who answered was incredibly rude. You could hear him sigh after every question. I am not sure why he is so mad at me. I am one of your FEW customers at the moment, and I am calling because YOUR airline canceled my flight (understandable) but then sending me on a 3 flight trip instead of a non-stop.

  5. Do you excuse someone’s illegal or awful behavior simply because their boss told them “its okay?” Absolutely not. If my boss tells me to rob a store, and I do, am I excused? What’s the difference for theft of service or refusing to issue a refund as required by US law?

    The “front line” employees are the customers’ only avenue to get their outrage back to management. If the the front line worker wants to pass the phone to someone who CAN make a difference, then please do. Otherwise, perhaps if enough front line workers provide the outrage to management, they’ll change. The pervasive outrage has clearly not been getting to the top since they aren’t making a change.

    Maybe enough front line workers will quit or go on strike due to hostile working conditions and management will be forced to change their policies. As far as I’m concerned, there’s no difference between the CEO making the decision and the front line employee enabling the CEO to continue to break the law.

  6. @ Stuart – I think you bring up some very good points. Like you, I certainly will not be rude and will be nice and respectful, like I always have been and always will be. However, I completely agree that there have been countless times when I have been treated disrespectfully by airline employees and the airlines for no reason at all. What other industry other than the airlines can get away with the way they treat the customer and get by with it??

    I work in local government and deal with unhappy citizens all the time. If I had a dollar for the number of times I’ve been told that “I pay your salary”, I could retire today. If I responded to and treated the unhappy citizens like the airlines and airline employees treat customers at times, I would be fired in a New York minute!!

    My point is that I think it’s time that both the airlines and airline employees realize that we are the paying customer and we don’t deserve some of the treatment that we get. I realize it’s all very relative but sometimes, a “gut-check” does everyone some good. Let’s ALL be nice and respectful to everyone going forward!

  7. @Stuart

    You’re not going out of your way to be kind to someone who was rude to you before, you’re going out of your way to be kind to someone you’ve never met before and probably never will again. We’ve all had experiences with bad FAs and call centre agents, but the person you see today or tomorrow is someone different. Not everyone who shares a job is the same.

    I tend to think this line of reasoning is where a lot of bad customer service comes from. Someone has rude customers and starts to assume all customers are rude and starts presumptively treating them that way. Whereas, as a customer, I would much rather be treated as an individual and not be assumed to be a jerk just because the last customer was. So I try to extend the same courtesy to people I interact with.

  8. @Matt. Perhaps you missed my point. I am not going out of my way to be rude – as so many of them have been to me over the years. In fact I am a pretty nice guy. I am saying this: Why should I be flowery and EXTRA nice to them as if they are some sort of hero? I will be courteous. I always am. But I will save my thanks and gratitude for medical field workers right now instead. They are actually doing something difficult and did not spend the last 10 years doing everything they could to make my travel more difficult.

  9. @Mike, that’s JFK. You can see Terminal 4 with all those Delta planes and from afar can see the TWA hotel (near terminal 5).

  10. So many people have a bad experience with one employee and tar everyone with the same brush

    There are some customers who are always rude and arrogant to ( airline ) employees as they believe they are superior and have the right to do so

    Some of those a-holes are regular contributors here or other forums

    If you don’t agree with some things , there is absolutely no point in raising your voice at the frontline staff as you know it’s not their fault and they won’t be able to change the policy ( eg check in cut off time or flight departure time )

  11. @Icarus. Do you fly in the U.S. or mostly overseas? If you are in the U.S. it’s hardly “one person.” It’s an entire culture that has developed, particularly with AA and United. I don’t think anyone here condones being, as you call it, “an a-hole.” There is never a place for that in talking to anyone in the service industry. But, to be lectured by Ben that perhaps airline staff now deserve extra love and tender words is a bit much. They deserve basic courtesy. Nothing more. Even though few in the industry over the past ten years ever provided much of that to any of us.

  12. I won’t be as combative as Jay because there are truly desperate people who must feed their family or survive alone, at the expense of their health and lives. CEOs answer to share holders and board of directors, not employees and the public. Heck, we do not even unite together on travel forums to call out all airlines and hotels that engage in unlawful and unethical acts. I deal with fraudulent transactions every year but I never assume that all people who walk through the front door intend to stiff me. Crisis reveals character. When Dr. Fauci became the top expert on the COVID 19 task force, he emphasizes that he will never sacrifice his integrity and reputation for anyone under any circumstance, contrary to Dr. Birx. Let’s see how long he will last with Trump. Unlike Joey, when employees start reading off the script, I begin my lecture. When Citi Bank stopped receiving cash payments at the branch, the teller informed me it was a preventive measure against money laundering. I asked her if she could name any US bank executive who went to prison for the 2008 financial collapse world wide. A dead silence. I advised her not blindly defend the policy. She said I could do online payment. I asked her how the policy would accommodate the elderly who are not computer literate or those who are too poor to afford internet access. We need to extend compassion to the vulnerable and less fortunate, reign in the wealthy and powerful, and refuse to enable the sub standard and mediocre performance. I don’t work well with those who strictly follow by the book as lawyers who write policies and laws are clueless about the unknown variables on the ground.

  13. @Stuart – Keep preaching!! You continue to make very valid and worthwhile points. Again, being nice and being treated with respect and valued as a customer is a 2-way street.

  14. They are working hard, no doubt. However, they are working. I am not earning any income. Zero. Nada. No money at all in April.

  15. Um. Go fly a kite. While there is no reason to be rude, let’s just recall:

    A. These people have pushed us around rudely for years just because they can.

    B. Every single airline employee should be at my every whim as my tax money has given them an average of a $66,000 annualized salary for the next six months.

    It’s never a good idea to yell at people. But it’d also be a good time to write an article about how airline people should morally be obligated to kiss the behinds of those who bailed them out.

  16. I must live in an alternate travel universe from many who comment here. While I have experienced varying degrees of service from airline and TSA personnel, I have never been treated badly or rudely. Occasionally, I’m not happy with the outcome of an issue but it’s not the person delivering the bad solution but rather the circumstances. I’ve had to cancel several trips recently and hotel stays and I’ve been treated well and can’t complain. I never allow myself to get worked up if the service onboard is not great or the TSA agent is testy or if the phone agent doesn’t know what they’re doing. It doesn’t make the situation better and often makes it worse. I have much bigger issues with my job and schedule to worry about.

  17. Someone who makes his living berating hospitality staff and writing about it …this is RICH

  18. To some of those who have reasoning to not go out of the way to be extra kind and friendly-
    Maybe be extra kind and friendly just to be extra kind and friendly.
    Maybe you got the one rep who treats everyone as well as possible and is still constantly downtrodden.
    I grew up as a bullied child with the mindset that you should treat others the way they treat you. But as an adult, the better way is clearly to treat others as you want to be treated.
    If you think using the former of those in your treatment of TSA agents or Airline employees led to meaningful policy changes though, then by all means keep at it.
    Don’t get me wrong, it’s a tough ask in our society.

  19. @Donna. It’s the cumulative of so many negative things that far outweigh the few positives you find. And it’s good you find them! Yet, there is a tipping point to this where it’s pretty hard to see the good when you have been repeatedly stepped on over and over. Kind of like a bad marriage. Perhaps some are better than others in only focusing on the few good things, I try, but after years of dealing with operational madness, devaluations, inhumane seating configs in coach, angry and indifferent FA’s, surly front line airport staff, nickel and diming on fees, impossible redemptions, inflexibility for difficult circumstances, and diminished service etc etc etc, I think most reach a point of not giving a hoot about what happens to these airlines in the U.S.

    Many will argue that it’s the corporate culture that makes for this, not the workers. Sure, to an extent. But if the front line employees spent as much time fighting for customers in the same way they do their own benefits, salary etc they could facilitate change instead of eye rolls in that “rules are rules” and “I just work here.”

    One of the few quotes from Bernie Sanders I like is that, “Change can come from the bottom up.” It can, as much as the top down. These employees will spend every second of their time (often in the galley) complaining with each other about contracts, seniority, blah blah blah. When was the last time they were an advocate for the paying passengers spending $800 for a last minute one way ticket to Des Moines and getting caught up for two days in an operational mess at O’Hare or DFW? When did you ever see gate agents or FA’s stand up to corporate like they do for themselves to say, “We need to treat our passengers better. You are handcuffing us and making our jobs impossible.” They don’t. They are too busy complaining about their jobs and playing Candy Crush.

    Again, I would never advocate being rude to anyone. When the eye rolls come for what I think is a reasonable request ( ex. I am horribly sick and dehydrated in a hotel room in Zurich in December, barely able to be away from a bathroom for more than 5 minutes, and I am told by the AA CSR as an Exec Plat that to take the flight the next day with wide open availability according to expert flyer, even with a doctors note I received, would cost me $3000.00) I just accept it quietly after trying to nicely explain. But you can be sure that I am in no way going to be all flowery with these same people now just because they are dealing with the stress WE ALL ARE DEALING WITH.

    I will be courteous – but I will be da*#ed if I will thank them. These are not heroes. Medical line staff are. Soldiers putting themselves at risk ever day are.

    Finally, I am not so sanguine to think that after they are back up in a few years to the levels they were pre-covid19 that they will not go right back to screwing elites who were loyal at every turn.
    This has been a nasty marriage with a cheating partner who will only change when it’s convenient. So, I will be courteous, but I will NOT be thanking them as Ben suggests with a special effort just for doing their jobs. One which they actually have because of the bailout using our taxpayer money. Perhaps it’s time they should thank us for once.

  20. Travel and airline employees aren’t heroes. The notion that we should go out of our way to be extra special kind to them is laughable. Why? What the heck have they ever done for me? Overseas I usually get very good treatment. Domestically here in the U.S. has been a different story. Generally when I’ve called for something the response has been “Sorry sir, there is nothing I can do.”

    Screw them honestly.

    ~ The Honorable Reginald

  21. Yes Ben I completely agree with you, and on top of that I would like to point out that expressing frustration to frontline representatives doesn’t really do much. While it would be nice for those making the policies to listen to frontline reps’ feedback and take that into account when designing policies, in most companies there is virtually no avenue for such feedback. If you want to make change at an airline or complain about a policy, the best way to do so is through the customer feedback forms (either those sent out or on their website) – real people at headquarters actually look at those. Believe it or not there are customer feedback forms but no forms or any other way (other than cold-emailing people) for customer service reps to give headquarters feedback. This comes from experience working both at an airline headquarters and in customer service

  22. @Stewart – I’ve been a road warrior since the ‘80’s. I have never calculated my accumulated miles across several carriers but they must be at least 4 million, and last year was a normal year with just over 224,000 miles. I never said airline policies are fair or that they aren’t predatory or that I haven’t gotten the short end of the stick numerous times. My point was, I don’t take these things personally or I’d be housed in the psycho ward in the nearest asylum. The analogy in my case would be that of a difficult relative that you can’t get rid of or distance from and must humor or tolerate.

    Your points are well taken and not arguable.

  23. @Donna I pretty much mirror your experiences and time in the field. Since 1990 and exactly the same as you on all fronts. We should have a drink and share stories.

    Really, you have a good attitude. This is why women should, in reality, rule politics and govern the world. Less ego and more pragmatic.

  24. Overly entitled FAs in the US have taught me over the last 10+ years only these three lessons: keep any conversation with them at a bare minimum, don’t ask for anything other than if you could get your Diet Coke with ice, and pick whatever is left from the menu.

  25. So if my flight is cancelled, and they are jumping hoops to NOT give me a refund, are they being nice extra nice to me? Considering they are still employed to handle my call, meanwhile I have 0 income? Am I the one in this situation that should be extra nice?
    I’m never rude, even to those that wronged me before. I’m the guy that buy them Godiva or Ferrero Rocher chocolates, or Starbucks gift card every single flight, and expect nothing in return except a smile when interacting (maybe a “bribe” so they are not mean to me if they are on a bad day). I believe that every social interaction should be respectful, but they don’t deserve the “extra” nice if they are acting like scammers, you know, take the money but not deliver on services.

  26. People are frustrated, and travel companies have to realize that. Harsh words hurt sometimes, but they rarely leave any sort of permanent damage. We have to learn to deal with the increase in those.

    I’ve had well over a dozen passengers contact me via my personal social media accounts in the last few weeks to demand refunds, compensation, etc.. that they felt they were not getting processed quickly enough through normal channels. For the most part, they calm down once they realize that their grievances are being addressed, albeit slower than they would like due to the sheer volume of requests combined with less people working to process them.

    We have also had some crazy folks who have threatened staff personally after being frustrated. That is unacceptable and those people are no longer welcome as customers once this is behind us.

  27. I don’t think Lucky was asking anyone to be “extra nice,” or “to go out of their way.” Just a reminder to be nice. This is a travel blog, so one can assume that that’s why he’s focusing on travel industry employees. Unless I missed something, I don’t think he stated you should stop there; that anyone beyond travel should not be treated nice, as if there were tiers of people, or professions, that deserve more or less decency. Honestly, I find it shocking that some are justifying why they don’t want to be or won’t be nice to others. In all my travels, yeah, there’s been delays and cancelations, but far more on-time. It’s a wonder there’s not more delays and cancelations given all the moving parts and things beyond an an individual airlines control. And yeah, I’ve come across some bad apples, but the rest has been hundreds, thousands even, of nice, friendly FA’s. I’d say the same for agents, but interactions are far less limited. If everyone else is “so bad,” maybe it’s you and not them.

  28. As someone who works in the industry, I love this blog so much and this article is very much appreciated.
    It is so interesting to read the comments but meanwhile so sad to see the hatred here towards the airlines and travel agencies. I am from Europe and mostly fly within Europe but I think the average person here adores flight attendants and loves the flights but at least does not have hatred towards the airlines and “entitled” flight attendants. (I have never in my life met an entitled or unfriendly FA not even on the ultra-low-cost carriers’ flight). Is it really so different in the USA? We have some US customers who are outraged with us. (We are a small local agency and we are always super-careful to be very nice even when we are “dead inside”) But it is hard to deal with disrespectful customers and keep up the empathy.
    However, reading this blog and the comments are opening my eye for the reasons where this hatred is coming from. Still sad.

  29. As the reservations manager for large chain hotel, every call my team and I take breaks our hearts. We aren’t taking reservations, just processing refunds. Every call we take, and every refund we process is a reminder that our livelihood is almost over. The people processing your refunds are the last ones standing, who will also soon fall.

    Thanks for being kind.

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