FORT WORTH (CBSDFW.COM) – There were no planes, and no crews to fly them, just hundreds of upset passengers with no way to get where they were going.
The scene would fit during just about any North Texas winter storm, but it’s what gate agents for American Airlines said described most of their September.
“We knew it was going to happen,” said one employee. “We just didn’t realize the extent of how bad it was going to be.”
A job that is already stressful at times turned dangerous according to some employees. Passengers impatience turned to anger as they looked for the closest American employee to vent toward, usually a gate agent.
“Guy took a swing at me, over the counter,” one said. “Took a swing at me, missed my nose by literally a quarter of an inch, half inch?”
After hearing passengers talk about gate agents just leaving the boarding area all together during a sudden slow-down in American’s operations last month, CBS11 asked some to describe the slow-down. They agreed on the condition they not be identified. The work group is not represented by a labor union.
American blamed the slow-down on pilots, saying they increased sick calls and last minute maintenance calls. Employees said they knew something was about to change after a judge’s decision to void the airlines contract with pilots. Planes would leave the gate only to return with maintenance issues. The flight would cancel due to delays, but there would be no room on other flights to re-book passengers. One agent said there would be two employees attempting to handle as many as 400 passengers, and at times, they would just walk away leaving passengers on their own in the gate area.
“Because if you don’t, it’s going to become violent,” she said. “One of my buddies the other day, international flight cancelled, she’s on the jet bridge crying, because there’s nothing she can do.”
Agents did not want to point fingers at pilots or any of the other airline work groups for contributing to the operational issues. One said there was, however, an overwhelming sense of “entitlement” in all of it.
American recognized the difficulties, after threatening legal action against pilots last month to end the slow-down. The airline said the action, which the Allied Pilots Association has said it did not endorse or organize in any way, was “driving unnecessary work and significant stress for other employees.”
Employees said management had been noticeably working harder to improve the situation in the last week.
Operations have improved, with flight tracking web site flighstats.com showing nearly 75-percent of flights on time Monday. Gate agents did not think it would end entirely though, even during the holiday travel season.
“With the holidays coming up, we’re hoping good will toward men will kick in somewhere.”
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