Thami Kwazi
Lifestyle Print Editor
4 minute read
31 Aug 2018
4:06 pm

Why airline staff are untouchable

Thami Kwazi

One of the worst things about flying is having to deal with the person who checks in your bags. For some reason, excellence in service isn’t important in SA.

Picture: iStock

There’s issues that airlines never really want to address, like when an uncomfortable situation happens and a strange press statement is released and it’s forever swept under the carpet.

A recent situation is that of music duo Black Motion, who allege they were removed from a plane after complaining that they were moved from their booked business class seats to economy class. They were escorted off the plane by police for complaining to the flight attendants.

The story went viral on Twitter due to the popularity of the group and their followers’ emotional comments. The group is currently suing the airline for around R3 million and it’ll be interesting to see what the outcome will mean for the future of airlines.

The group had every right to complain: If you’ve spent hard earned money on business class seats, you deserve to get your money’s worth.

TV star Bonang Matheba tweeted last year about the food on a South African airline, complaining that she didn’t enjoy it. The airline’s social media responded that the rest of the customers enjoyed it.

Could it be that people are afraid to complain about the quality of food, treatment or bad service on airlines because nobody wants to be banned from flying?

Rapper AKA also complained about the same airline a few weeks later, saying that he was “jolted” awake from his sleep on a flight from Johannesburg to Germany by a flight attendant.

The airline’s response to their staff’s behaviour was also a bit of a non-response. It’s as though they felt compelled to respond because he’s a man with a large following who was already adding to the bad publicity they were receiving.

I’m starting to wonder if they don’t have an automated machine that just comes up with standard responses to every complaint.

AKA. Picture: Twitter

Airline staff have always been some sort of untouchables. I’m saying this from personal experience. One of the worst things about flying is having to deal with the person who checks in your bags.

For some reason, excellence in service isn’t important in South Africa. While checking in there will be someone who decides to take lunch or a tea break as the queue grows. The person left at the counter, who’s probably irritated by having to work alone, will take their time checking passengers in and will do it with a very bad attitude. At times they will be having a conversation with another person and not paying attention to the passenger.

Then there are the flight attendants, who don’t want to assist passengers with bags, seats and do a lot of chatting during the safety announcement and often take time to respond to requests. It’s as though after serving food they decide to go the kitchen area and not come out until it’s time to prepare for landing.

So the question to ask is: where does one go to complain about bad service on a plane or airport? Unlike the celebs I’ve mentioned, you don’t have a legal team, therefore can’t afford to sue. Finding such a department for me was like finding a needle in a haystack.

File photo of the check-in counters at OR Tambo International Airport in Ekurhuleni.

File photo of the check-in counters at OR Tambo International Airport in Ekurhuleni.

South African Airways offers a full customer service charter on their website, with promises about how a customer should be treated. It includes links that are meant to direct you to the customer service line. The link gives you contacts and the social media address for the airline.

Judging by the response Bonang got when she complained, the social media link is the quickest route to take. My biggest gripe with their customer service lines is that they are not open 24 hours. The baggage claim line closes at 7pm. When baggage goes missing it usually happens long after that hour, which means, you may spend a few days without a change of clothes.

On the British Airways site is a complaints form. When you’re in an emotional state, the last thing you want to do is sit at a computer and fill out a form. You want talk to another human being who will deal with your case immediately.

The Comair complaints site provides a physical address and postal address. So I basically failed in my mission to find a simple way to lodge a complaint.

Makes you wonder what one must do if one isn’t on social media and is stuck in a foreign country with no baggage or thrown off a plane because one was unhappy with staff treatment.

It seems airline staff purposely remain untouchable.

For more news your way, download The Citizen’s app for iOS and Android.