“Put yourself in the customers’ shoes but never lose your authority”
Finnish flight attendant and blogger Riina Keinonen shares her insight on airport operator Finavia’s website on how to handle aggressive or distressed travellers.
“The difficulty in dealing with misbehaving passengers in-flight is that there’s no way to remove the customer from the premises. You have to come up with another way to diffuse the situation,” she says.
Currently, Keinonen is on maternity leave, but before that she worked on charter flights for two years and is known for her blog Sarkasmia ja shampanjaa (Sarcasm and Champagne).
Typically, difficult situations on vacation flights involve a passenger who has had too much to drink.
“In my experience, 90% of difficult situations on board are related to alcohol consumption,” she says. “I understand that people want to let loose and have fun on their holiday. But noisy behaviour can disturb other passengers. Sometimes intoxicated passengers also get angry when we refuse to serve them drinks – especially in business class, if they have paid extra for the services.”
She adds: “But they also need to understand that in an emergency, passengers must be in the proper condition to vacate the plane quickly. Stressing this safety argument often pays off.”
Tension often arises from the strict safety directives on board. Though passengers may find them restrictive, crew members must ensure that safety rules are abided by.
“For instance, we cannot let kids run, play or sleep in the aisles, as turbulence can hit at any time even when the skies are clear. These children could be in danger if they do not stay in their seats,” Keinonen explains.
Understand but be strict
Cabin crew members are trained to deal with difficult customer situations. The basic principle is to diffuse the situation with as little disturbance to other passengers as possible. Riina Keinonen gives five tips for handling difficult customers on board.
Put yourself in the customers’ shoes: “It is important to understand the customer’s behaviour and where the annoyance stems from. They may be tired and hungry, or dismayed that their long-awaited vacation isn’t going according to plan. Most situations can be settled with a genuine apology and small compensation like a complimentary chocolate bar or extra drink free of charge.”
Be strict and don’t lose your authority: “Although we are always flexible and address passengers in a polite manner, cabin crew should not be submissive. We should not lose our authority, but must stick to the rules. Belittling or inappropriate touching should not be tolerated by the crew.”
Don’t embarrass or provoke a passenger: “Crew members need to be careful not to embarrass the passenger in front of other customers, or provoke them by using incorrect language. I try to crouch down to be able to address the passenger face-to-face or I ask them to step aside for a talk.”
Make sure the whole aircrew behaves consistently: “It is also important that each crew member is made aware of the difficult situation for everyone to be able to behave accordingly. If one of the flight attendants has refused to serve a passenger a drink, the others shouldn’t do that either.”
As a last resort, stopover or cuffing the passenger are options. “If the situation is extreme, cabin crew can threaten the passenger with a stopover. The passenger would have to get off the plane and compensate the costs of the stopover, which can be tens of thousands of euros. I’ve never actually had to witness a stopover, but I have used it to threaten misbehaving passengers multiple times. Usually it works rather well,” she says.