An ode to gate agents, the unsung airline heroes.
Flight attendants and pilots receive a lot of praise, and rightfully so. But gate agents are the unsung heroes of the frontline airline business. They receive the brunt of passenger pushback and must solve many problems that are not of their creation.
On my recent Sydney trip, there was a man absolutely berating the United gate agent at SFO.
“How dare you deny me those seats! I am tired of talking to you! Stop talking. Let me speak to your supervisor. NOW! Stop talking. This is an outrage. This is a crime!”
He apparently had not bothered to reserve seats in advance or booked late in the game and his family of four was separated. These were not young kids, but looked to be teenagers. It wasn’t clear if they were split 2-2 or all seated in different rows. I got the sense that he noticed there were open rows in EconomyPlus and he asked for one of those, but was told there would be an upcharge. This seems to be what caused him to fly off the handle.
Let’s take a brief tangent here. I fully support the gate agent denying a free upgrade to these extra-legroom seats. Why should someone get for free what others pay for or MileagePlus elite members have to fly often to earn access to? It’s always nice to keep families together, but if you want to sit together…pay up or avoid Basic Economy fares. But that’s a topic for another post.
As tempting as it was to pull out my camera and start recording, I decided to board since there were still some emails I wanted to send out. Thus, I have no ending for the story.
But my story is not about the anecdote I witnessed, but about how poorly passengers can treat gate agents when they get angry.
Be Nice To Your Gate Agent
Gate agents truly have to put up with a lot. They become punching bags for mechanical or weather delays. Often they have to deal with pretentious–and clueless–passengers who demand to know why they did not receive an upgrade…when there were dozens on the waitlist in front of them. And of course they face pressure not just from their customers, but from their employer.
Airlines place tremendous pressure on gate agents to get flights out on time, which sometimes makes friendly chatter and a laid back spirit literally impossible.
I’m really tired of seeing gate agents berated by passengers. There’s simply no need for it and most of the time it is for issues the gate agents have no control over.
It’s important to recognize that throughout this process, they are still ambassadors of their airline. I’m not giving them a free pass here. But at the same time I feel like gate agents work hard and do not recognized. There is a target on their head that is far too broad.
With rare exceptions, gate agents want to serve you. When they seem frazzled, do not take it personally and try not to approach them with stupid questions or small talk.
The good news is that airlines are giving gate agents more discretion to solve problems and issue compensation. That surely helps.
Going back to my flight, If I were the supervisor, I would have upgraded the four passengers in the middle section of the last row of the aircraft to EconomyPlus then dropped the displaced family there.
There are bad apples at every airline. I’ve seen some horrific gate agent antics over the years. But far more often than not, gate agents are just trying to get the flight out on time and serve passengers as best they can. Next time you run into a delay, cancellation, or any sort of ticketing snafu, please don’t take it out on your gate agent.
image: Alaska Airlines