Can this trip be saved? Angry birds – and angry passengers

This is a picture of two flight attendants on American Airlines flight 590 from San Diego to Chicago on Mar 20th. They’re playing Angry Birds on an iPad in the galley.

I don’t have a problem with that. But Calvin Michael does.

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He couldn’t find two seats together in economy class before his departure, but at the airport, American offered two “upgraded” economy class seats in row 7, 8 or 9 for $39 each. He decided it was worth it, and ended up with seats 8B and 8C.

That’s when the trouble started.

As the plane began to finish passenger loading we noticed that a couple in row 7 had two young children that were highly energetic and were lap-based, versus having their own seats.

After the first beverage service moved on from our section of the plane, the highly-energized children became a challenge to avoid.

So Michael had just paid an extra $78 for the wrong seats.

I had spied that our original seats appeared open when making a trip to the lavatory. Upon returning to row 8 with my wife, we discussed going back to these seats to avoid further contact with the children in row 7.

Michael pressed the flight attendant call button to ask a crewmember for permission to move. No one responded.

I went back to where the flight attendants were just aft of the coach lavatory.

I found both flight attendants engrossed in a video game behind a partial privacy curtain. I said “hello” in a normal voice, I cleared my throat, knocked on a lavatory door; I could not gain the two flight attendants’ attention.

I decided to take a cell phone picture, then two, then a third with flash. Again, they were only attentive to the hand-held video game.

I went back to my seat disgusted and survived the remaining hour or so of flight.

By the way, my son, who is an expert on these matters, tells me the attendants were playing Angry Birds. (Angry Birds, angry passengers. Ironic.)

Michael sent American an email detailing the seating arrangement problem and the flight attendants’ behavior and asking for a refund of his upgrade fee. American replied with a form letter. Here’s an excerpt:

Our employees strive to provide all of our customers with a safe and pleasant flying experience, and we try to ensure you are not subjected to uncomfortable situations by other passengers.

However, as in any public gathering, there may be occasions when a conflict arises between people or when one individual’s actions bother another.

Since our crew members may not be witness to all the behaviors or actions of a particular passenger, there may be a limit to what they can do to improve behavior that is perceived as a nuisance.

In the face of any serious disturbance, our crews are trained to diffuse potentially volatile situations so as to ensure the safety and well-being of all our customers and crew members.

Maybe someone at the corporate office is too buy playing Angry Birds to bother reading email from their customers. Michael’s complaint was as much about the non-responsive flight attendants as it was about the rowdy kids.

Michael could have downgraded himself and his wife without permission from American. However, it’s true that the airline can’t really control who you’re seated next to — which is to say, it doesn’t usually send an employee over to tell the unruly kids to shut up. Confrontations of that nature can have disastrous results.

I’m not sure if Michael deserves a refund because of his unruly seatmates. But I think he could make an argument for getting some kind of compensation for being completely ignored by the flight attendants.

I know how easy it is to get engrossed in a video game. I have two boys who are well on their way to becoming professional video game players. (I’m kidding; I hope they aren’t.) But the attendants on flight 590 were on duty, and they had an obligation to at least respond to Michael’s question.

Had they simply acknowledged his problem and allowed him to return to his original seat, I don’t think this would be an issue.

Is he entitled to $78? I don’t know. But he should get more than an empty apology.