Peter Panetta almost died on a recent trip to Puerto Rico. But what Southwest Airlines did to him afterwards really killed him.
Panetta says a flight attendant on a Southwest flight “bullied and badgered” him while he was in a weakened state. He wants to know if the airline offered him enough compensation for the experience.
These are really difficult cases for our advocacy team. We can see both sides and we want everyone to be happy with the outcome. That almost never happens, of course.
Panetta was a passenger on a Southwest Airlines flight returning from Puerto Rico to Baltimore. He had, in his words, had been “seriously injured” after a near-drowning accident, in which he had been hospitalized.
I’ll let him tell the story:
I received very inappropriate treatment by a flight attendant at a time where I should have been provided extra special care. During the flight, a male flight attendant was persistently rude to the extent of bullying me.
I sat in a window seat approximately row 20, with a medical mask around my face. I was coughing persistently over several minutes early in the flight.
The husband of the couple sitting beside me got up to get water for me, because no attendants were around.
The flight attendant eventually brought me a cup of water, and as he handed it to me, said “I want you to know that this is someone else’s water, but I’m going to go ahead and give it to you anyway.”
This comment was unnecessary and inappropriate, as I hadn’t said a word to him.
I fell asleep during the middle of the flight, which helped me remain peaceful and free of coughing. However, multiple times the attendant passed by and specifically woke me up by directly asking me to hand him any garbage.
As soon as I would awaken, I would start coughing again. It was unnecessary to repeatedly disturb me, given there were 90 minutes or more remaining before descent. This was cruel and unusual punishment for someone obviously suffering.
The attendant badgered me once more during descent. He said to me, “I need all of your garbage.”
I responded, “Yes” with a smile.
He then replied in a harsh tone, “I want all of it!”
I politely responded, “I will give all of it to you.”
He then immediately retorted, “You have to lift up the tray table and seat right now!”
I said in response, “I know sir, I’m on it.”
The attendant’s condescending behavior not only disturbed me. The couple in my row had their heads down in shock and amazement.
It is unconscionable for a flight attendant to bully and badger an ill, considerably uncomfortable traveler as he did.
He never once asked what was wrong, or what he could do to make my flight more comfortable. He never once said “thank you” during the flight.
Someone with a personality like this absolutely has no business interacting with paying customers, let alone your most loyal, long-term ones. His confrontational attitude toward an obviously ill traveler is synonymous with kicking a man when he is already down.
This flight attendant deserves to be fired. At the very least, he needs to be reassigned to another position in the company with no customer interaction.
Now, this is certainly not the first unsympathetic flight attendant I’ve heard of, and I know it won’t be the last.
But bullying a sick passenger? That’s a new low, especially for Southwest.
Panetta wants 100,000 bonus points and a “personal response” which includes how Southwest will discipline the flight attendant.
Southwest apologized, sent him a $200 flight voucher and added 5,000 points to his frequent flier account. Not good enough, he said. Here’s the final word from Southwest.
Your unhappiness with the situation regarding your [flight] is very clear, and I regret that you were not satisfied with my responses to your concerns.
Admittedly, learning that a Customer has parted ways with us with anything less than a positive memory is upsetting to say the least, and I appreciate your candid feedback.
I certainly regret that you feel $200 in travel credit is commonly distributed for Customers contacting Customer Relations regarding their individual travel experiences.
It’s important to point out that each of our Passengers’ situations are examined on a case-by-case basis by our Representatives and Specialists to determine whether or not compensation is warranted, and if so, how much.
As you mention in your email, we do offer passengers compensation when volunteering to take an alternate flight in the event of an oversale; however, you completed travel as scheduled.
As you can imagine, it is impossible for us to place a dollar value on a customer’s frustration or inconvenience. Consequently, our focus is on offering our sincere apologies and correcting any service shortcomings in order to avoid future problems. I’m sorry to hear that the voucher issued didn’t have the impact we were hoping for.
While I obviously don’t want to further upset you by rehashing your experience, we truly regret that you remain disappointed with the way we’ve “netted out” on this particular situation. Any time a Customer calls into question the performance of one of our Employees, our reputation is at stake, and we most certainly could not—and would not—enjoy the success we’ve known if we approached such matters cavalierly.
Rest assured, the mere arrival of your initial letter was sufficient cause to review our Flight Attendant’s performance and learn from your comments.
While I did issue you 5,000 Rapid Rewards points in the past as an exception (we do typically compensate in travel vouchers or in the original form of payment), we will not be able to respond favorably to your request for an additional 50,000 Rapid Rewards points in this case.
I realize my response may not provide much in the way of closure for you, but it is our hope that you will consider all perspectives before drawing your final conclusions about Southwest Airlines.
Our goal is to provide our Customers with excellent service and value and we regret that we have continued to disappoint you. We hope we will someday have the opportunity to regain your confidence and goodwill.
That response didn’t go over well and Panetta asked our advocacy team to get involved. And we did, sharing his paper trail with our airline contact.
Result? According to Southwest, “the matter is closed and we have no further action.”
Here’s the thing: Panetta got some points, a voucher and a personal apology. I believe what really irritates him is not knowing the fate of the flight attendant. Maybe this will help: I’ve spent some time with the folks at Southwest and I know they’re horrified by what happened to Panetta. This employee is not Southwest material.