Hero Aids Traveler Abused by Airline Agent

June 5, 2015

in Airport Stories

An Open Letter to United Airlines, my hero L. Rodger (I may have the name wrong), and fellow air travelers:

The first thing I would like to say to United Airlines is thank you for giving me my first professional job after high school graduation as a summer ramp agent back in the 90’s. It has shaped my career and is where my love for operations began. My time as a summer temp gave me some of my most valuable early business lessons and is the source of the stories that I re-tell constantly to my direct reports. The fact is, I have fond memories and a soft spot for United.

Now, I want to transition to a point that has to do with people and the evolution of US air travel. As a business owner, I travel often and have done so since university graduation. I have experienced a decline in human kindness when air traveling and I know for a fact that I am not alone in my sentiments. There are many various events that have lead us here, but I do not wish to debate them. I would like to illustrate an example from a recent experience to highlight just how bad things have gotten.

On a recent flight from Newark to LA, I stood in line at my designated number for boarding and ate my breakfast standing. A gate agent requested my boarding pass and I quickly gave it to her no questions asked and no other words were exchanged. After some time, she returned with a tag to check my bag. I asked her if she was checking my bag and she stated yes. I told her that I had paid for the upgraded economy plus and presented her my boarding pass for proof, so therefore I should have room in the designated overhead. She stated that it did not matter and that I had to check my bag because the flight was full. I requested not to check my bag because I had a room full of people waiting for me and the flight was already delayed. She gave me two options, check my bag or catch another flight. I agreed to let her check my bag since I had no choice, but added that I would appreciate not being “surprised” in the future and that it would have been courteous if she had informed me of the situation when she requested my boarding pass.

This is when the story gets crazy. The gate agent began yelling at me and threatened to “surprise” me by removing me from the flight. She was going to call the police and escort me out. She also began yelling that I put my hands on her. At this point all I could say was that I did not touch her over and over again. I was panicking inside and could not believe what was happening.

During all of this, a man in a blue coat who worked there saw and heard the whole thing and came over. I was not sure what was happening and for a brief moment I thought he was the man who was going to take me to the airport jail. I am not sure what position he has at United or at the airport, but he was my hero that day. With a calm voice he looked at me and said, “It’s okay,” said a few words to the gate agent, and apologized. Holding back tears, I said thank you and put my head down and stared at my checked bag on the ground. I had never moved and could not move at this point. The gate agent begins yelling again and turns her rage at Lenny. She yelled at him things like, “Why did you apologize,” “Do not speak to me,” and other mean-spirited things. He simply stated in a calm voice to let him do his job please. His only words.

I do regret not standing up for Lenny as he had for me when he was being bullied. I kept my head down as did every other passenger and gate agent around us. I have seen other people at the airport have similar experiences and have also kept my head down then as well. I am embarrassed to state that fact now after my experience. Lenny is my hero because he had empathy, courage to act when others did not, and the ability to remain professional and calm when he was being attacked. I want to be more like Lenny.

I believe in the goodness in people and would like to have a pleasant experience when I travel by air. Sadly, we have gotten to a state that most of the time it is not. With this, United, it is time for the company to take responsibility and realize there is an epidemic among your customer-facing employees and they see us, the customer, as cattle and treat us as such. There is a culture where specific employees have lost their professionalism and are quick to abuse their power. Other passengers and airline employees keep their head down to not get in the path of rage. I am not sure why this is allowed and not reported even by their fellow co-workers, but it is happening more and more often than it ever did before. During my time at United, it was not the culture. Now I vow to present myself with a smile to every passenger and employee, but I will also try to be Lenny when needed and I hope others join me as well.

The start of this whole experience was over a checked bag and is trivial. Presented in another way, I would, and many times have, volunteered to check my bag when asked. Given this experience, I will be retiring the roller bag and switch to a back pack hoping for an out-of-site-out-of-mind effect. I will probably put a United tag on it and hopefully this will spark an opportunity for me to re-tell my United ramp stories I love so much.

Have a great day and I look forward to hearing about the changes United will pursue to change the environment.

Best regards,


{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

paul June 6, 2015 at 12:53 pm

I hope you contacted United about the situation.
An incident like that will probably happen again without having somebody being talked to.


David M June 10, 2015 at 2:02 pm

Yes, I has a gestapo type agent that did the same thing to me. As she was going on with her triade, I wrote down her name and ID number. She still kept on going. I was polite. I it NEVER pays to get angry. I wrote a LETTER not an e-mail to United complaints customer service department. Never knew what happened except for a form letter, but I bet she got a letter of reprimand. I had sent certified, signature return. I meant business. That’s the only way, unless you get a knight in shinning armor, which you obviously did. Good Luck next Yvonne.


CMR June 26, 2015 at 11:59 pm

Yeah, there is no excuse to act like that as a gate agent. I always remember that gate agents and flight attendants are people too and can have bad days. Maybe this was a bad day for her. Regardless, you can't behave like that as a representative for your company. Sounds like "Lenny" had a better handle on the situation and acted appropriately.


Sarah July 13, 2015 at 7:37 pm

I'm so sorry you had that horrible experience. Flying has become such an unpleasant experience that it's unfortunate there is not an alternative to travel. I consistently fly first class — it's a luxury that is expensive and one that I find hard to justify — but the alternative is worse. Even in first class, the service is NOT what it used to be. FA's are rude, and the service is sup-par. Becoming hard to justify the high ticket price. Something has got to change.


Forde1943 October 1, 2016 at 6:46 am

This is a horrific experience. I hope you have overcome that experience because it can change your perspective regarding airlines.


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