What To Do When Your Travel Provider Doesn’t Know Or Follow It’s Own Rules


If you travel long enough you are bound to run into some staff at a travel company that doesn’t seem to play by the rules.  It could be the Federal Government’s rules or even just the rules of the company itself, but the obstinate individual seems to be on a crusade to assert their authority to make up whatever rule they feel like that day.   For example, in this situation, a flight attendant threatened to remove a mother and her baby for attempting to use an FAA recommended and approved car seat. More details here.

Why It Occurs

Customer service staff in the travel industry have to put up with a lot of difficult people all day long.  They work long hours under difficult conditions.  Most of the time, when they quote the rules, they are correct.  That said, there is no excuse for anyone to make up rules and let their ego run amok when they are having a bad day.  You will find that the more authority a person believes they have, the more likely they are to create rules out of thin air and make threats when challenged.  Flight attendants and security staff compete for the honor of being the most likely to abuse their power.  Security feels entitled for obvious reasons, but flight attendants usually have an axe of their own to grind.  While your most common interaction with them may be during food and beverage service, most of them feel that they are primarily their for your safety, and the service is just an unfortunate duty they are forced to do when they have a spare moment.   The rest of the time, they can prop up their egos knowing that Federal law requires that all passengers comply with crew member instructions.   Legally speaking, if a flight attendant asks you to pat your head and rub your tummy, you are required to comply.

How To Respond

In the situation with the car seat, the mother probably did her best.   She had to weigh the option of leaving the flight against complying with the flight attendant’s mistaken interpretation of the rules.   She chose to comply and exacted some measure of justice after the fact when the airline was forced to apologize to her and compensate her.   When dealing with crew members aboard an aircraft you have few choices.   If the aircraft is on the ground and the door is open, you can choose to get off the plane.   Otherwise, you really do not have any choice but to comply with crew member instructions.   Upon landing, you are then free to ask for the name of the person you spoke with, an employee number, and the name of a supervisor.   Above all, keep your cool at all times on board an aircraft so your departure can be of your own accord, not by the escort of a Federal Marshall.

When not on board an aircraft, you have a lot more latitude to quote the rules to someone, or ask to speak with a supervisor.    This happened to my wife and I when a gate agent decided that she did not have the proper Visa for our travel itinerary.   We had done the research and knew that she did not have to have a Visa to visit this particular country with her particular passport, but the gate agent was ready to deny us boarding.   He even threatened to call his supervisor.  We agreed, and challenged him to do so.   Lo and behold, when he actually entered the information correctly, his computer agreed with us, and his supervisor was not called.   Occasionally, when time is of the essence, you may even have to loose your cool to get your point across.

Ultimately, it comes down to how much time you have on your hands, and how much your are willing to fight.    One day, when I arrived at security with my three year old, I went to the line clearly labeled for travelers with small children.   That day, the TSA line guard would have none of it, and told me I couldn’t use the line.  I pointed to the sign that said “small children” and he just kept repeating his inane instructions.   Paradoxically, if I did not have my three year old with me, I would have been more interested in asking for his supervisor to explain why my kid was not a small child.

Some times you just can’t win.

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