American Airlines is “sorry” about the flight attendant who had a psychotic breakdown

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By Christopher Elliott

For Emma Basch and her family, a recent commuter flight from Washington to New York was a pure nightmare from start to finish.

The incident took place on American Eagle flight 3432 on Nov. 30, and she’s been trying to persuade the airline to address the events ever since then, but with limited success. Basch, her husband and toddler, had an unpleasant encounter with a flight attendant who met them as they were trying to board.

“He immediately began screaming at my husband that he was going to have him escorted off the flight,” she remembers. “We didn’t know what was going on, but eventually we figured out that the flight attendant thought my husband was someone else who had apparently tried to bring a large bag on the plane.”

Problem solved?

Not really. Instead of backing down, the crewmember went ballistic, she says.

“He began to yell again at my husband so aggressively that our baby began to cry,” she says.

Basch tried to intervene.

He said to us, “I’m having an episode and I can’t deal with people.”

He yelled at several more passengers and then loudly told the other flight attendant that he was “having an episode like I did last week.”

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He then came over to “apologize” to me and a few other passengers. He repeatedly said “I have something mental inside me that makes me have episodes like this when I feel stressed. When we land, I’m telling them I’m not flying again.”

He also said on multiple occasions, “I can’t deal with stress,” and “I’m having another episode.”

When we got off the flight, we spoke to the pilot, who said the attendant “will never be flying with us again.”

After that, Basch and her husband wrote to American Airlines to complain. It was one of those “concerned passenger” grievances, with no specific remedy suggested. They left it to the airline to do the right thing.

American replied promptly, noting in an email that “our customers should always experience polite and diplomatic service from our employees, regardless of the circumstances.”

“We’ve shared your comments”

When hiring employees who will serve our customers, we work hard to find those applicants who demonstrate a friendly and service-driven attitude. Our training programs emphasize to all our employees, new and experienced alike, the importance of an individualized, caring, and professional approach — even in the face of unique situations that only an airline might encounter.

In light of your comments, we’ve shared the details of your experience with the appropriate Manager in our American Eagle Flight Services Department for internal review and counseling purposes. You may be certain that your feedback has been used constructively.

Basch pushed her case with American, reaching a supervisor by phone. In light of what they’d been subjected to, shouldn’t the airline do more than apologize?

Finally, it yielded the following written answer:

Thank you for taking the time to talk with me about your experience. When we spoke, I had hoped we could resolve the matter at hand. So, I am especially disappointed that we weren’t able to do so.

We want our customers to have positive experiences when traveling with us, and we are very sorry that this was not your experience.

We have thoroughly reviewed your perspective concerning this issue, and we can understand your perseverance in this matter.

We try to avoid disagreements and do our best to clearly explain our position. When applicable, we will offer a gesture of goodwill. Still, we have a responsibility to decline compensation requests when we feel it is not appropriate.

Let me assure you that our position does not lessen our regard for you as our customer. It is always our pleasure to serve you, and we are eager to do so again soon. Please give us another opportunity to earn your business.

So what, exactly, does Basch want?

For starters, she wants “concrete” assurances that the flight attendant has been dealt with.

“I feel they have not given us any clear sense of what they are doing to make sure this doesn’t happen again, particularly since it seems as though they knew this flight attendant was emotionally unfit and let him fly anyway,” she says.

“Secondly, we are looking for some form of compensation,” she says. A refund or mileage credit would be acceptable to her family.

“We have been loyal American Airlines customers for years. Both my husband and I have American credit cards, and fly American almost exclusively and are deeply disappointed at how they let us down here,” she says. “The whole situation was very scary and unsettling and made us feel incredibly unsafe.” (Here is our guide on how to fix your own consumer problem).

Of course, we don’t have the flight attendant’s side of this confrontation. But her experience raises a question for my consumer advocacy team: What kind of compensation — if any — is a passenger entitled to when a crewmember goes off the rails, as this one is alleged to have done?

Should they refund the ticket? Throw them a few miles? Credit them with a few frequent flier miles?

Did American Airlines offer Emma Basch enough compensation?

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can't. He's the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes three nationally syndicated columns. He also publishes the Elliott Report, a news site for consumers, and Elliott Confidential, a critically acclaimed newsletter about customer service. If you have a consumer problem you can't solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on X, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter.

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