Why is US Airways so un-American?

Jorg Hackemann / Shutterstock.com
Jorg Hackemann / Shutterstock.com
If you read nothing more than the headline of this story, you might think this is another rant about the evils of airline consolidation — a consolidation that, by the way, isn’t over yet.

But it isn’t. Instead, I’m thinking about how to respond to a complaint I received from Mark Ellerman, a passenger on a recent flight from Phoenix to Chicago. Actually, so are all of the volunteer advocates who work with me.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Chubb. Chubb is the world’s largest publicly traded property and casualty insurance company, and recognized as the premier provider of insurance for successful individuals and families in the U.S. and selected international markets, offering coverage for high-value automobile, homeowners, recreational marine/aviation, valuables and umbrella liability coverage. As an underwriting company, Chubb assesses, assumes and manages risk with insight and discipline, and combines the precision of craftsmanship with decades of experience to conceive, craft and deliver the best insurance coverage and services to individuals, families and business of all size.

We just don’t know what to tell him.

Part of the problem is generational; a disconnect between the Golden Age of flying and today’s age of pathetic airborne buses. Ellerman says he’s been flying since the 1960s and he refers to flight attendants as “stewards” and “stewardesses,” which can get you into deep trouble with the crew on any domestic airline, just as calling your server a “waitress” can land you in some hot water.

It all started when one of the stewardesses — I mean, flight attendants — made an announcement after the flight departed. They were down to only one credit-card reader, so any drink or meal orders would take a little extra time.

Card readers? What about cash? Alas, only US Airways’ regional service accepts greenbacks.

“I had no idea that they could take credit cards now,” says Ellerman, “and she told me that is all they take.”

“I thought that she was kidding,” he added.

She wasn’t.

He continues,

I said, “You mean I can’t buy a drink with money — cash?”

No. No notice, no advanced warning, nothing but, “We’re Americans — we use credit cards.”

It was spoken in a voice loud enough that 10 to 12 people around us all laughed at me.

OK, being ridiculed by crewmembers — that’s unacceptable.

But the airline’s credit card policies, often euphemistically referred to as a “cashless environment,” are disclosed on its site. Interestingly, the airport is not a cashless environment. You can still pay for your airline ticket with bills. But I digress.

“At that point I knew that I and my US currency was being discriminated against,” he says. “I was excluded from the rest of the passengers who all enjoyed themselves around me, flashing toasts to me, while giggling at me.”

That didn’t sit well with Ellerman, who spent the rest of his flight angrily sipping a soft drink.

He asked a crewmember how to file a complaint. A flight attendant told him he could “go online” to file a grievance.

“I said that I thought I had been discriminated against,” he added.

“I don’t think so,” she replied.

Ellerman calls this refusal to accept cash “un-American,” and wants me to do something about it.

As I unpack his complaint, I see a few things: First, there’s the way Ellerman was treated when he tried to pay cash for a drink. I wasn’t there, of course, but I have seen flight attendants, in their own subtle way, belittle passengers who aren’t “in the know” about air travel. Did they hold up Ellerman to ridicule? I’m sure he felt that way.

Second, there’s the issue of cash being accepted on board. In the ‘60s this wasn’t an issue because almost everything was included in the price of your ticket. But now, almost everything is excluded from your fare. Maybe we aren’t sympathetic to a guy who can’t buy a drink, but what about the mom who wants to buy lunch for her toddler and only has cash?

Finally, there’s the issue of disclosure. I’m getting a little tired of companies that tell their customers, “Hey, it’s on our website,” when they have a policy question — as if we should commit their entire online presence to memory. That’s unreasonable. There’s a sizeable group of passengers that still don’t know your first bag doesn’t fly “free.”

When airlines shoot down public information projects that could potentially inform their customers, it really makes it look as if they want us to remain clueless, because ignorant customers are the most profitable ones.

I’m not sure what to do about Ellerman’s complaint. If I take a Quixotic case like this to US Airways, I’m pretty sure I will hear the giggles all the way from Arizona. Yet for all the hyperbole, Ellerman makes some valid points about the state of air travel.

Those should not be ignored.

Should I mediate Mark Ellerman's case?

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122 thoughts on “Why is US Airways so un-American?

  1. Cash gives them all sorts of problems…needing to make change, having to account for it, etc. All of the airlines are going cashless in the air. The reason you can pay cash for a ticket at the airport is that probably it is the law.
    And for the record – US Airways is VERY American. I flew on them in December. The planes are old, the service is very marginal, In the airline business, that’s about as American as it gets.
    Something productive to fix this situation would be to sell vouchers for onboard food and drink.

    1. I like to think that Southwest Airlines is about as American as it gets. Most of their aircraft are less than 15 years old. All are made in the USA by Boeing. There’s a little more space between the seats than on legacy carriers. The flight attendants usually have a sense of humor. They don’t charge for bags. They don’t charge for changing reservations. And they don’t try to nickle and dime their passengers once they have boarded the aircraft.

  2. The flight attendant could have suggested that someone else pay with the credit card and have the OP pay that person with cash. He shouldn’t have had to go without, and certainly shouldn’t have been belittled.

    1. He was probably being a jerk and didn’t need a drink to improve his attitude, so the FA was wise to just ignore him.

    2. Happened to me on a european flight. Damn those chipped credit cards. Ryanair wouldn’t take cash so the passenger paid for my ground transportation and I gave him the cash. Wasn’t that difficult. Another reason I disbelieve op.

    3. Yeah…I was thinking that if the guy was truly being nice about it, a passenger seated next to him would have said “Hey let me buy it for you and you can reimburse me” but if he was being the cantankerous ol’ coot it sounds like he was being, they probably all began intently studying their fingernails, belly buttons and e-readers 🙂

      1. Love the analogy because its so true.

        I’ve had seatmates who didn’t have credit cards before, and not once have they had a problem giving me cash so I could charge their drink.

      2. Exactly! Never will passenger’s be anything but supportive and helpful to each other particularly in defense of a rude stewardess unless said passenger is being completely unreasonable and abusive. If truly 10 plus people thought it was funny I would bet my college degree he either made this up OR he deserved it for being cruel and also monopolizing the staffs time directly affecting the service of other paying passengers. I’ve seen passenger’s flag another attendant down to make them aware of another passenger being mistreated by a crew member so this story he’s concocted of people laughing at him and being discrimated against isn’t going to fly :-0 unless he has another person, even one, to back this up.

    1. That was MY first question, too! I almost wonder if he KNEW about the credit card requirement ahead of time and maybe decided to stage a little dramatic revolt of his own to either make a point, be a jerk or hope to get something out of it. If he truly didn’t have a CC in his wallet, I’ll … .eat one of my own! (and the bank would weep for all the lost revenue)

    2. Do any agents take cash these days? I can’t find anything on US’s website about how to buy a ticket with cash. American however, states that you can purchase a ticket with cash at any ticketing counter, or at Western Union.

      1. United has installed pre paid card dispensers at their major hubs. You can’t buy a ticket with cash, but you can feed the cash into the card machine and it spits out a ready to use card that you then use to pay for your ticket (certain fees may apply to the card purchase, of course).

        1. Oh wow, so one woudl have to wait in line to get the ticket total, and then go buy their card, and then wait in lien again to get it? Plus fees. Seems annoying.

          Back when I ran A/R for a company, I wanted nothing more than to eliminate cash entirely, but had too many customers who didn’t have bank account, or didn’t trust credit cards or on-line payments. So I imagine its still needed, even in the airline business. But on-board I think it makes sense. No more worrying about what might happen to the cash after it leaves the plane.

          I had gone to remote image capture for checks, so no need for armored service. The only time I needed armored service was for cash, and the bank also charged a cash fee. When I did the math, the credit card fees were cheaper than the fees associated with cash. But I would loose too many customers if I eliminated cash, so I could never do it.

          1. Could it be the OP didn’t want the charge on the statement for someone else to see? I’m not implying he has a drinkiing problem (cue the scene from Airplane!) but others here did imply it and perhaps that is why he wants a no trail way to drink.

          2. Good call. And I LOVE Airplane. I still joke that I have a drinking problem every time I spill on myself.

            When I was traveling for work, I had a card for personal expenses, and various no-fee/low fee hotel and airline cards (Sorry Chris). The airline card or hotel cards were used for the matching airlines and hotels, as well as additional busienss expenses, write-offs, etc. The car rentals all went on the Diners Club (no fee) because it provided rental coverage. That way I could add those cards up and know all of my business expenses and where they went, and keep them separate from personal expenses when tax time came.

            I also found that all hotels let me have two accounts on my room, one for room charges, and a separate one for incidentals. That way I could either use two card, or even use the same card, but have separate statements for lodging and meals/dry cleaning, etc.

            Long story short, the OP needs more credit cards 🙂

          3. Surely you must be kidding!

            One can get a prepaid card at the supermarket and put $50 or $100 on it with cash. Anyone going through your wallet seeing you have this means you have way bigger problems on your hands than just this.

            Yes, I tend to think the worst – people don’t do things without a reason and often the reasons are selfish and/or self destructive.

          4. I am serious, and don’t call me Shirley.

            The one thing I don’t like about those pre-paid cards is the hefty fee. But that’s an entirely different story for Chris, all together.

          5. “That’s an entirely different story for Chris.” God, I love Airplane! Maybe the funniest movie I’ve ever seen.
            Looks like I picked the wrong day to stop sniffing glue.

          6. I just introduced someone to it and they liked it but mostly they now have a much better grasp on me and how I am most of the time.

      2. We don’t take cash. After 9/11, where the bombers bought their walkup tickets with cash, the airlines had to made changes to what they took.

      3. We do accept cash, and even checks from valued clients. But most use a debit or credit card. SO much easier – and why wouldn’t he have one for the TRIP he was taking????

        1. Do any hotels even take cash these days? Or car rental companies? I almost never use cash at all, unless in vegas.

          1. I’ve stayed at a motel as an all cash transaction. I think they still wanted to see a credit card though for incidentals.

          2. You can do cash at hotels which don’t have incidentals, e.g. Motel 6 and the ilk. I had to crash at that type of hotel driving up on the 5, just dead tired and pulled into the nearest motel 6 -type. They took cash, credit cards, and ATM cards. I was amazed. Also, when I swiped my credit card, it was a purchase for the exact amount, not an authorization to be reconciled when I checked out.

          3. If you don’t have a credit card, you usually have to put up money. Twice I had clients have to put up a couple of hundred dollars, then when they checked out, the rooms were checked and with a clean report, they got their money back before they left the front desk.

          4. Yes they take cash and if you don’t have a credit card, you usually have to leave a certain amount with the front desk at check in, refunded at check out provided you didn’t do any damage to the room.

          5. My rental company (one of the big 3) did not accept cash at airport or local branches. Ever. We technically accepted money orders and checks but we required the amount to be around $200 above the total rental price, and then the refund came as a check from our regional office about 7-10 days later, so most people just used plastic. I did have one regular who would use a credit card to hold the rental up front, then when he came back he would go to CVS and buy a money order and use that to pay for the rental. So, yes, people do it, but it’s rare.

          6. Why (and I don’t expect you to know, but I’m asking just in case) would anyone use a card to hold the car, and then go pay a fee to gt a money order to pay with cash?

          7. The fee for a money order is pretty low (I think it’s around $3) and since the guy was a regular I’d usually just credit him the amount towards the rental as a matter of goodwill. IDK why he didn’t just charge it to his card after we took the pre-authorization, but some of our customers didn’t have a lot of disposable income so waiting 7-10 days for a refund could create a hardship for them. There were also additional requirements for debit card/money order renters, including a local DL, proof of residency, etc. By using a credit card up front and a different method upon return one doesn’t have to deal with the extra hassle.

          8. If I pay by cash, you can’t ring my card up later when your employee backs into a wall with the car I rented and then suddenly discovers that I “damaged” it.

            Not that any rental car company would ever do that

          9. We have made reservations for clients, who don’t have a credit card, to rent a car with a major car company. It is a PITA and we don’t do it any longer. They have to cash qualify and there is a lot of paperwork involved.

          10. Yes, cash qualifying is a total PITA which is why I often suggested that people secured the rental up front with a major credit card, then pay with a debit card upon return. This also avoids the larger hold we would have to take with debit cards. Some rental companies (Avis/Budget) don’t use cash quals BUT they run a credit check which actually damages your credit score.

          11. To cash qualify means leaving a lot of money upfront, which in most cases is one of the reasons people who might have to do this, don’t have a credit card. They are a bad credit risk, don’t have a lot of money or just don’t want to risk the danger of letting a credit card get out of hand due to poor money management. They can still be turned down for a rental during the qualifying process. We don’t assist with cash qualifying any longer…thankgoodness!

        2. He clearly DID have a credit card — nothing in the article suggests he didn’t. He just wanted to use cash, or, more likely, just wanted to find something to be annoyed about.

  3. I have not flown an airline that takes cash in several years. And if the OP has been flying regularly he knows this too. This story sounds contrived—I doubt it happened in the way the passenger described it. Like you, I was not on the plane. But the toasting passengers give the impression of responding to an ill-behaved passenger, rather than responding to one who had been treated poorly by airline staff.

  4. This guy sounds like a real treat. And because it’s sometimes difficult to transmit sarcasm, that means the opposite of what it says.

    I love how he has to assert that he “refers to flight attendants as ‘stewards’ and ‘stewardesses’,” as though it’s some indelible badge of honor tattooed into his forehead since birth. This is the type of person I hope I never have to sit next to on a plane.

    What’s next, they wouldn’t let him light up? But smoking is so…‘MURican.

    As for the actual complaint, I have serious doubts that it was making fun of him. We Americans often joke about maxing out our cards, owing a lot in credit card debt, and so on. Saying that We Americans Use Credit was likely nothing more than just an attempt at humor. Maybe humor didn’t exist in the 60s.

    In writing you, the OP looks completely foolish. And, he violates one of your rules for resolution: what does he want the company to do about it? Certainly not force US Airways/American to start accepting filthy dollar bills because someone straight out of the 1950s doesn’t like the idea of credit beyond his Sears, Roebuck and Co. charge card?

    Since he’s used to the “Golden Age of Flying,” he could have avoided this situation by paying for first class – which would have been about the same inflation-adjusted cost of flying in his own era, and precluded the need to buy food or drink in this era. Or does he want to have his cake and eat it too?

    I know the stories are sometimes softballs, and they’re fun to hit too. But I really enjoy reading stories about actual problems and resolutions from reasonable people. This one belongs in the landfill.

    1. You got all that out of one article. Amazing. How is life at 221b Baker Street?

      Me, I just figured he is one of the old timers trying to enjoy his retirement and is a little behind the times. Like a lot of our parents in their seventies, the world has changed. And maybe it is the staff’s job to make the customers life a little easier while using the services they are paying for, be the staff servers, flight attendants, or customer service reps,

      1. I bet real men in the 60s didn’t email a travel ombudsman because a flight att… er…stewardess insulted them 😉

        1. Best comment of the day award! Picturing a “real” ’60s man, after his three martini lunch chasing a beautiful stewardess wearing go-go boots and shorts around…all while smoking and eating a big steak! (All on an expense account of course!)

    2. This guy sounds like an unbelievable prick. There’s no other way to put it.

      He wasn’t “ridiculed” in the slightest. He kept asking the same question and got a slightly more flippant response that happened to be cute. So then he sat there, sulking, imagining all the passengers around him were “giggling at him”. Are you kidding me? Here’s a clue, Mr. Ellerman, no gave a damn about you and your soft drink and to imagine otherwise suggests one hell of a narcissistic personality flaw.

      You wouldn’t even let it drop, considering yourself to be “discriminated” against. Oh, I’m sorry the “stewie” didn’t give into your demands, but here’s a hint Sherlock – when the rules apply evenly, it’s not discrimination. No airline has accepted cash for drinks or food for years and they’re not going to simply because you traveled a bit back when Nixon was in office.

      1. I have to agree with you. What clinched it for me was when he said all the passengers were giggling at him and toasting him with drinks while he sat there fuming drinking :::gasp::: only a measly soft drink. Y’know what? People usually just aren’t that nasty on a large scale. If all the passengers around him were snarkily toasting him, I guarantee you he acted like a complete dick to the flight attendant, the other passengers witnessed it, and then were giggling because the rude old coot was getting his just desserts.

        Not ONE of them offered to buy him a drink? Yeah. That says it all.

        I hope he got all their names so that he can ask Christopher to go after them as well. They should all pay!

        1. Great point. This has to be the most absurd quote of 2014:

          “I was excluded from the rest of the passengers who all enjoyed
          themselves around me, flashing toasts to me, while giggling at me.”

          That sounds unimaginably preposterous. Folks toasting, laughing and clinking plastic tumblers with one hand while pointing at the OP with the other.

    3. This guy sounds like a real treat. And because it’s sometimes difficult
      to transmit sarcasm, that means the opposite of what it says.

      Quote of the day!

  5. The best response to the FA would have been, “Of course, they don’t trust you with cash any more, do they”

    And yes, I’ve seen the FAs get their digs in at the customers. Normally it is when the airline has messed up.

  6. Businesses can dictate the form of payment however they want. Some don’t accept personal checks, other don’t take Discover or American Express. Some gas stations don’t take bills over $20. Other businesses that have high value items like furniture stores don’t accept cash because it makes their employees a target when they go make a deposit. There is no discrimination here.

    In this day in age, it’s laudable to not have credit card debt, but it’s silly to travel without some form of plastic–debit or credit. It means you’d have to carry a large amount of cash, or something outdated like travelers checks.

    1. I don’t know what the deal is with older men carrying cash but at least my dad has credit cards with him. Went to Grand Canyon last year and I casually asked my dad how much he had with him, because he likes to keep a few hundred. I almost fainted when he said $1000!!!!!

    2. Every bill I have in my wallet states, “This note is legal tender for all debts, public and private.” Now, if I’m paying for my consumable BEFORE I get it – like most things – the business can enforce their own rule. However, if I’m paying after receiving the consumable – say, at a restaurant – then I bet the business has a harder time enforcing that rule. Not sure how the “we have a sign posted” argument works in these cases.

  7. Within the last two years I have been on some flights that take cards only and some flights that take only the exact price in cash. They will not give change. While I don’t consider it ‘unAmerican’ I agree that it’s a huge pain in the butt to make sure to bring plenty of $1 bills in case you want a drink. It would be great if the airlines would just decide which way they want to do it and stick to it.
    And yes, I can believe that the FA was snarky. It’s not uncommon.

    1. Very true, but how many times do other passengers laugh about said snarkiness unless the passenger is being abusive unreasonable and monopolizing the flight attendants time? Normally doesn’t a snarky stew resonate and unite passengers? The only time I’ve ever seen passenger’s laugh and even applaud snarkiness by crew is when a passenger was being abusive. I wouldn’t encourage such behavior by mediation unless the story is backed up that the snarkiness was uncalled for and the op was anything but abusive in this story. I’m not buying 10 plus passengers laughing at another passenger unless he was being particularly rude causing a delay in the rest of the paying passenger’s to receive service as well.

  8. I think that you should only mediate if there is a clear goal of the mediation. What does the OP want? If it is a policy change, well your mediation isn’t going to accomplish that. If it is a written apology for being ridiculed, then that is something that might be attainable by you and your team. I also wish that people would be a bit more careful how they use the word discrimination. It is only discrimination if a protected class is involved. Cash-carriers are not a protected class.

  9. Chris,

    Drinking midflight is a luxury. A comparison to buying lunch is a stretch, since the mother can buy food in the airport via credit card and carry the meal onboard. I’m sorry the OP felt belittled, but I suspect he didn’t like being told no. I further suspect the OP got an attitude when the attendants didn’t budge.

    Honestly, there’s nothing to mediate here, except if you want to validate an adult throwing a temper tantrum. You are 100% correct the top brass would shake their head. I bet the number of NO votes by readers says we’re in agreement.

  10. Mediate what? Did he not have a credit card with him? How did he check in for his flight without a credit card?

    1. Guy must be carrying wads of cash. I thought the same. Unless the OP is under 21 (not yet has credit) or 80s+, I don’t buy the story. Some people prefer cash, but nearly everyone owns a debit or credit card. Especially someone with enough disposable income to purchase an airline ticket.

      1. Not to mention, you usually need a credit card to check in at the kiosks. Of course, it’s possible to check in by other methods but that is often a hassle. Oh, and he had to drink a soft drink instead of alcohol on a flight that couldn’t have been more than three hours? Poor baby. As soon as he gets off the plane, he can hit the airport bars. Not to mention millions of other great bars in downtown Chicago. Jeez. If you couldn’t get through a flight without alcohol, you shouldn’t be flying in the first place. Take the bus and bring your own six pack.

        1. Or the OP might need a sponsor. Even a bad day when one wants a drink to wind down, if nothing else, sleep cures all. Are we to believe the op couldn’t just nap until landing? We’re not talking an international flight here.

        2. You can check in in person with a drivers license or passport. However, they often just direct you to use the kiosk with a credit card anyways. It is concerning that the OP couldn’t get through his flight without booze.

        3. I didn’t need anything last time I wanted to check in at the airport, although typically I’ll do it online these days.

          All you need now is the locator (or whatever it’s called) and your last name. Once you have that, they’ll check ID at security.

  11. I’ve heard of some religions not using credit cards. Is that why he thought he was being discriminated against?

    Course, would he be drinking if he were that devout?

    IDK…pass the coffee.

  12. I’m not sure what you’re mediating? The fact that he felt bad because he didn’t realize that US Air went cashless almost four years ago and was one of the last major airlines to do so; the fact that US Air was one of the last airlines to go cashless; or the point that US Air makes the assumption after 4 years that everyone realizes that they’re cashless?

    I feel bad for the OP that he was embarrassed that he didn’t realize that US Air was cashless but that isn’t US Air’s fault. I don’t see US Air changing their policy for one passenger. So, you’d be left mediating the disclosure piece and I’m not sure how US Air would do better. It’s an older policy so it really wouldn’t be on the front page any more. If they waited to inform people until they got to the airport, someone would have a legitimate complaint so it has to be on the website.

    I don’t see what you would mediate here Chris.

      1. Some people don’t have enough on theiir plate, that they’re willing to sue over nothing. Wow, just wow…..

      2. As an attorney, I’m embarrassed at this case. At least it appears that he represented himself and didn’t find some low rent ambulance chaser looking to make a name for himself.

  13. First, I doubt the other passengers were laughing at him, they were more likely laughing at what the FA said taking it as humor. And in economy, it is nearly impossible to say anything without at least 10 or 12 people hearing exactly what was said unless you whisper so I doubt the FA was talking unnecessarily loud. He probably made a scene about the airline not accepting cash and the passengers around him were reacting to that by what he saw as raised glasses aimed at him.

    But really, when was the last time he flew? Was it in the ’60s? While totally cashless is a recent development, the airlines I have been flying have accepted credit cards onboard for many years. And all of them now make an announcement about not accepting cash as soon as the door closes. While at that point it is too late if you don’t have a credit card with you, I have had those around me offer to pay for whatever others are buying with their credit cards in exchange for cash. I feel the OP is just a grumpy old man.

    1. The ONLY time I ever saw other passengers laugh or giggle at the expense of another passenger for what a snarky “stewardess or steward” said or did was when they were being totally unreasonable, rude, nasty and monopolizing the time of a flight attendant that had 49 other paying passengers to serve. Usually passenger’s unite against a crewmember not visa versa. I wouldn’t take just his word on the account of what happened. When a passenger’s being nasty enough and a attendant finally says or does something to end it, stand up for themselves or move along that ends up beneficial to other passengers they will go as far as clap but only if they really are being despicable. So if 10 or so other passengers thought this was funny based on experiences of my own I can’t help but think he may have simply been put in his place after going on a tirade that offended not only the stew but passenger’s as well by holding up the service or monopolizing their time. There’s 1 fa to every 50 passenger’s folks.
      I can’t help but think, after being cussed at and verbally attacked/called names myself, over not being able to accept cash that had he not “shot the messenger” so to speak maybe they wouldn’t have been snarky. Flight Attendants are service people yes but they don’t have to take abuse so I question if he’s leaving out something or things he may have said to provoke a comment like that. While it was inappropriate and not something I’d have said while slinging drinks how is it the flight Attendants fault the airline didn’t accept cash? They didn’t refuse his cash just to make his flight miserable, really your gonna let a drink ruin your flight, it’s not a conspiracy. I agree with you here.

      1. I had one make fun of my seatmate….by poking fun at me. I was boarding late, because I volunteered my seat due to a possible overbooking. Once I got on, the woman in the window seat on the “2 side” (I had the aisle on a 2-3 configuration….DC-9) had placed some of her stuff below the seat in front of me. Before attempting to put my bag in there, I asked her if she would like it back. (As in “Hint…your stuff is in the way!”) She informed me that she was entitled to half of the combined space underneath the seats in front of us, and since the curve of the fuselage took away some to the space in front of her seat, she used part of mine. I stared at her for a moment and said “Yeah…right.” and moved her stuff in front of her feet.

        At that point she hit the call button and the flight attendant came over and asked if he could help. I remained silent while she plead her case. He had none of it and said the space under the seat in front of me was mine and that’s the drawback to a window seat. She was shocked and was not about to take no for an answer. (Keep in mind, we are ready to go because I boarded late…in order to possible help another passenger.)

        The guys across the aisle were laughing up the situation while I remained quiet and smirked a bit. Finally the flight attendant offered her an aisle seat two rows up that had a full allotment of unused space. She cried that that’s not what she wanted and that she should get what she’s entitled to. I slowly raised my hand and sheepishly said the the flight attendant… “Sir, if it would be OK, I’ll take that seat because I really don’t want to sit by this person.” The passengers around erupted in laughter and applause while I moved two rows up. When I got to my new seat the woman who was my NEW seatmate said, rather loudly: “You’re welcome to the space in front of my seat too, because I’m not using it!” More laughter.

        When the drink service came the guys who were across the aisle offered to by me a beer and the flight attendant gave me extra peanuts. He said “Maybe if you chew on these it will keep you quiet, troublemaker!”

        At no time was the woman treated with disrespect by airline personnel, but she certainly got it from the other passengers. When I was getting off the plane another “Thank You” for me and I heard a “buh-bye” for the whiner.

        1. OMG Awesome! I love it! Sadly, I met many a people like your former seatmate when I was traveling every week. Usually they whined enough that they got their way. Glad to see it when they don’t.

          1. Giving into whining entitled demands isn’t helping anyone including the offender so I must admit I don’t like seeing them get their way either!

        2. Nice! Thanks for sharing and I’m glad they were able to have a laugh with you while not making miss I’m more important than you realize it was at her expense 🙂
          Sounds like you should have been offered the empty seats from the beginning and maybe avoided dealing with that after just trying to help another traveler out but, sounds like it worked out.

          I’ve not seen it often but have had my share of giggles and applause from passengers at the risk of being wrote up or landing in an article like this but sometimes it just had to be said on an airplane ya know!
          We all know the situation airlines have us in for domestic flights is enough to bring out the worst in the most laid back person on a good day but at the end of the day there’s a lot of amazing travelers out there flying. I miss being a flight attendant but you couldn’t pay me a gazillion bucks to switch back from the passenger seat to the jumpseat!
          It takes alot for passenger’s to make fun of or laugh at another passenger (a la mean girls) but when it happens they pretty much are asking for it!

  14. Not accepting cash is more than likely an internal control policy. Cash has a tendency to disappear. So while this guy may be upset, it is a policy that basically tells the FA’s that the airline doesn’t trust them.

    I don’t drink, so never have this problem. Did it kill him to go that long without a drink??

  15. Sorry. This is the wrong case to use to make a point. Now, if you actually had a case where a parent couldn’t get food for a child, perhaps. But a denied drink? No way.

  16. Being treated rudely is reason to take your business elsewhere. It’s not reason to get some sort of reimbursement. I understand how this person feels, and the attendants should not have belittled him. But then he should just let US Airways know that and take his business to another airline.

    You other points about airlines being up front about services that are extra are valid, but this incident becomes part of a bigger discussion. It’s not a case to mediate, but a case study to point out a failure of customer service.

    1. I agree. But we don’t really know what the OP wants. He took the time to complain, but there is no mention of exactly what would resolve this issue.

      No matter. Within a year or so, I bet he’ll be taking all his US Airways business elsewhere 😉

  17. This is silly. Airlines have been phasing out cash for years and unless he hasn’t flown in a few years he would have seen that. It costs a lot to administer cash, plus it is a pain making change and the chance of theft or fraud is huge. Get over it and next time bring a credit card.

  18. I don’t think the “stew” was making fun of Mr. Ellerman, I think she was making a joke. I also think Mr. Ellerman is simply being too sensitive. Does he really think the other passengers were “flashing toasts to me, while giggling at me”? Please. Perhaps if he had been nice and explained that he didn’t carry a credit card, the flight attendant might have done something for him. Frankly, I find it hard to believe his wallet was empty of plastic and he wasn’t just being difficult. Besides, if he can’t make the 3.5 hour flight from Phoenix to Chicago without a drink, he has bigger problems than American’s flight crew making him feel old.

    1. And articles like this only encourage this type of narcissism in people. Discrimination? Is that a joke? I can smell a lawsuit from this passenger and as soon as I heard discrimination come from his mouthI’d have done an ops report and had a gate agent notate his account for future reference in case the airline needs it.

  19. I’m curious what the OP would have done had he had a card, and they had run out of his drink of choice?

    I voted no. I don’t doubt the flight attendant made a snippy comment, especially if he called her/him a stewardess/steward before hand. However, I have seen this exact situation occur many times, and the nearby passengers all offer to put the drink on their card in exchange for cash. I have done time myself for card-less seatmates. In fact, fellow passengers tend to be even nicer to the offended passenger when an FA has been rude, as we passengers are all in this together. I have a feeling it was the OPs own actions that caused the nearby passengers to make fun of him, not the FAs. I can’t remember who said it, but it was someone on this very site, “If everyone you meet is a jerk, it is probably you that are the jerk.” or something like that.

    Often times when I have been on long flights, the gate agents announce that it is a cashless plane, and if you don’t have a credit card and want to eat, go buy your food now. Unfortunately, it is not always announced.

    1. I sat across the aisle from someone on a Southwest flight where they ran out of his drink. It was not a pretty sight.

      The flight was from HOU to LAS on a Friday night and everyone was drinking heavily. I was drinking Wild Turkey (WN is the only airline I have found that has that particular option) as was the guy across the aisle. About 3/4 through the flight I got a refill and it just happened to be the last Turkey they had. The FA told the other guy they were out. He immediately started yelling about how everyone else got the drink of their choice but they were not giving him his because he was of a certain minority group. That did not go over well since the FA was also of that group. Long story short, the police were waiting for him when we arrived and took him off in handcuffs as he spit at everyone he passed walking up the aisle.

      Not saying the OP here would have reacted that way.

      1. Wow! It’s always the Vegas flights. I was on an F9 Vegas flight once where a very drunk person vomited into the aisle, and another UA flight where someone lit up. Can’t they just wait until they get there? Sadly, the FA shrugged off the smoking because I think he found the smoker attractive. I still think she should have been met by the police.

        Didn’t know WN had turkey. I am usually too cheep to buy a drink on the plane. When I sued to fly a lot I got 10 free drink coupons a year on UA and always used those. Sometimes F9 only has full fare left when I buy, in which case I get a free (sorry, I mean induced Chris ;)) drink.

        1. Yep, WN has Turkey because their CEO drinks that and they have it in case he takes a flight. And it is still only $5, which is a lot less than any other airline I am aware of charges for alcohol these days and a lot less than you pay for it at the airport too.

          1. That is a good deal, and when you get the little bottle you can be assured they give you the amount you paid for. Nothing annoys me more than ordering a drink and getting a tiny little sip. Especially when it’s an expensive scotch.

  20. “I had no idea that they could take credit cards now,” says Ellerman, “and she told me that is all they take.”

    Where has he been. It’s been this way for years and for good reason. Money doesn’t go “missing” when it’s on a card reader. And what luddite doesn’t have a card in 2014??

    1. “It was spoken in a voice loud enough that 10 to 12 people around us all laughed at me.”


      “At that point I knew that I and my US currency was being discriminated against,” he says. “I was excluded from the rest of the passengers who all enjoyed themselves around me, flashing toasts to me, while giggling at me.”

      Entitled idiot.

  21. It sounds to me like there was just some light-hearted ribbing going on, not any kind of deliberate insult. The overall tone of his letter sounds a bit prickly… his cash is being “discriminated” against?

    1. So if my salon doesn’t take amex are they discriminating against me for having amex? Discrimination? Whaaaaa?????


    1. If he was drinking before his flight indeed how much as alcohol is the number one reason otherwise pleasant individuals become abusive and a nuisance on aircraft?
      10 plus individuals laughing at him? For no reason except the Attendants remark but all he said was his two statements “you won’t take my cash” eh not buying this it’s made up OR he was in fact being abusive IMO

      1. Chris had a story a year ago or so about someone who was denied boarding because they were drunk. Imagine what this OP would have done had he been denied?

  22. 1. If the OP has been indeed flying since the 1960s he’d have known about this years ago.
    2. The OP, having flown supposedly since the 1960s, would be grateful how swift the service from the staff is now that they aren’t breaking a $50 for a $4 drink.
    3. I’m extraordinarily hopeful the OP is not truly thinking a company is not ‘American’ because of this. If so this OP needs a long overdue history lesson that is spoken loudly and slowly.
    4. The writing of the OP makes me think he was very rude and condescending to the staff who likely responded in kind unfortunately. The staff should be writing to Chris to complain about this customer!
    I hear much of this allegedly golden age of flying where everything was so perfect. I assume that is when smoking was permitted? How lovely.

  23. The whole “discrimination” rant is just silly, but here’s the worst part of this: the guy doesn’t even say he didn’t have a credit card. Because we all know he almost certainly did. He was just angry because he wanted to pay cash. Dear Mr. Ellerman, nobody cares.

  24. As someone who was involved in the switch to a cashless cabin at American Airlines a few years back I’ll simply say that on board sales revenue went up by a great margin after the switch. I’ll let others decide if this implies an extraordinary preference by travelers to purchase their on board food & beverage with plastic or a lack of financial integrity by far too many flight service personnel at the time.

      1. The FAs get credit for the credit card applications they get the passengers to fill out and turn in on many airlines (which is why they push them so hard). Not aware of that extending to drink and food purchases yet. I will have to ask my FA friends.

    1. Many studies have shown that people paying with plastic will always spend more than those paying with cash. I think it is mainly because most people carry a finite amount of cash at any one time and, unless they are at the card limit, usually can spend as much a they want on plastic.

      I doubt there were any issues with cash going missing because of flight crew integrity. It is just that the entire accounting process is streamlined when cash is not in the equation. Also, using plastic means the items sold on the planes can be at any amount, not rounded to the nearest whole dollar, and the crew doesn’t have to carry a ton of change.

  25. The poll should not be if you should mediate, but should you waste a column on such a ridiculous claim.

  26. Why didn’t Mr. Ellerman ask someone else to buy his drink on their credit card and offer his cash to them? That would have been a lot more productive in procuring a drink than imagining the other passengers enjoying their own drinks at his expense.

    1. I think someone else on this forum made the comment that the OP was probably being a jerk and nobody wanted to liquor him up any more that he might have already been.

      1. Ahh…. that makes sense. I had assumed he was upset about not being able to buy his first drink (which still seems to me a strange reason to reach out to a travel ombudsman for, regardless of how he perceived the FA and fellow passengers were treating him).

  27. Hi Chris,

    Regarding the disclosure issue you mentioned near the bottom of the article, what is your solution to this? Every time there is a complaint regarding an airline and someone not knowing the rules the issue of disclosure always comes up. The OP always says “why wasn’t this more clearly disclosed when I was buying my ticket?” This sounds simple enough until you consider how many conditions there are that people end up not understanding and causing themselves issues (change fees, baggage fees, 24 hour rule for cancellations, no cash for drinks, etc.).

    The only solution I can see would be to list all of the conditions with a tick box next to each condition confirming that you have read and understand it. Personally I don’t like this solution because it would probably triple the amount of time it takes me to book a ticket. I am not an extremely frequent traveller, but I fly often enough to know the rules. If I didn’t know the rules I would go read the terms and conditions before I booked the ticket and agreed that I understand them as we have to do currently.

    I realized after typing this that I am probably opening the debate of “there should be less rules” but I’m going to post this anyways hoping that we can have a discussion about how to adequately diaclose everything given the current terms and conditions that airlines have.

  28. Wait… when did “waitress” become an unacceptable term? If it’s fallen out of favor, I’ll try not to use it but this is a new one on me. (Just to be clear – if I need the waitperson/server to come by I don’t say “Hey waitress!”)

    1. I think it is now ‘server’ but I know people that prefer that prefer waiter or waitress. I think when they greet you as ‘Hi I’m X and I’ll be your Y’ you’ll know their preference.

  29. There are valid reasons why someone may choose not to use a credit card. I personally prefer to use cash when I can — this way I am not paying a portion of every financial transaction I make to the vampire squid banks that take a transaction fee every time a credit card is swiped. That offends me. Additionally, when I spend cash, I know I can pay for what I purchase.

    Yes, I have credit cards, and use them when I must — but only then. Using cash, I do risk losing the cash on hand permanently if it is stolen — but I don’t risk identity theft, I don’t have to worry about canceling credit cards or late payments or late fees or banks jacking up interest rates… For me, cash is still king.

  30. I don’t know how “steward” and “stewardess” became bad words. I would much rather be known as the good steward of something than “attending” it. Just the opposite of what I’m sure they – whoever THEY are – were going for, but “Attendant”, at it’s root, is much more subservient that “Steward”. Just sayin’. Just like “deaf” has become “hearing impaired” and “secretary” has become “administrative assistant”, I guess. If that’s what people want to be called, so be it.

  31. Chris, while I wasn’t there as well, when we ant cashless in 2008, I had customers badger me about not accepting cash when purchasing cocktails and I was as nice as can be! Don’t get me started about expired coupons! Customers usually think you are rude when they don’t get their way! You’re right there are two sided to every story! That said, we as FAs should not belittle customer who pays our salary!

  32. I always find it odd that a ‘credit cards only’ policy exists. How can they refuse cash? (Dollar) bills are legal tender for all debts, public and private. Not ‘some’ debts…

    1. A business can decide on what they will accept for payment. I personally don’t like all the push to credit cards. Even to park in some communities requires a credit card. But I get why they did this on planes.

    2. Private transactions are just that…private. The parties pretty much make up the rules within limits.

    3. I was curious about that so I did some cursory checking. Basically, you must accept legal tender for a debt. However, there is no debt created until the transaction is agreed upon. So, that means that if a store refuses to accept cash, it declines to enter into the transaction and no debt is created. No debt, no obligation to accept cash.

      By contrast, you go to a restaurant that collects payment after you’ve eaten the meal, a debt has been created. The store must accept cash as payment for the debt/meal.

  33. Never been on a flight where the “credit-card only” policy was not announced. If you have cash only, get the guy across the aisle to buy you a drink on his CC and give him the cash. Fix the problem, don’t just whine about it. While I understand that some people are not able to use the internet, nobody should not be travelling without a credit card for emergencies. America is becoming a nation of people looking for an excuse to get upset.

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