Always Be Nice To Your Gate Agent, So Unpleasant Things Don’t Happen

There’s plenty going wrong with summer travel. It’s frustrating for passengers, but it’s frustrating for employees too. Airlines are short-staffed. With flights full they don’t have extra seats to put passengers into. Lines are long. And tempers are short.

You’ll do much better if you’re nice to the employees you interact with than if you have a short fuse.

  • Remember that whatever has happened to you, it’s very likely not the fault of whomever you’re speaking to

  • Think of them as a person, not as the embodiment of the airline

  • They can choose to help you, or they can choose not to help you. Which do you want them to do?

Being nice is in your best interest. I thought of this when I saw the story of a passenger who was trying to make a connecting flight after her inbound aircraft was delayed.

She says she ran to the gate with her baby. Apparently she was traveling with other family members, the flight was about to close and she got into an argument with the gate agent. When she took a photo of the agent’s name tag, the agent instructed her colleague to close the door early. Another passenger arrived, they opened the door back up for that passenger.

@AmericanAir shoutout to lubna auntie at DFW for being a bleached witch and closing the gate doors on me but opening it for a lady moments later. Lanat tujh pai kutee charail. Kusri aur makeup pan

— Princessbuttercup (@Princes52559304) July 13, 2022

To the passenger, the gate agent’s insistent that she close the door on time and make sure that the flight departs – rather than delaying it a minute or two (or five or ten, she doesn’t know how long it will take for the rest of the family to arrive) – is just a decision that the gate agent can make. But it’s really not up to the agent. If they don’t depart exactly on time, if they don’t close that door, they’re going to get in trouble. (There are three and only three cases where gate agents are allowed to hold the boarding door for passengers.)

United Airlines has a program called Connection Saver where they’ll sometimes delay a flight to accommodate late-arriving passengers. They know that many of their flights are going to arrive early, so a few minutes’ delay won’t actually inconvenience anyone. That’s not always true, and they won’t always hold a flight, but they’re proactive. At American Airlines they have D0 – a focus on exact on-time departures (which they’ll still not super great at).

The airline employees you’re dealing with are people, who bring their own baggage with them. They may have gotten in trouble for holding a flight, or had a fight with their spouse. They have issues just like you do. They’re people.

It’s far better to joke with them. Empathize with them. Get them on your side. They might not be able to do exactly what you want, but they’ll be more inclined to help in other ways. Or they can make it not their problem.

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