I recently sat for 9 long hours on a plane. I read a really good book from start to finish, but 9 hours is a long time to be sat on your backside, especially following 3 hours bottom numbing in the departure lounge, and 90 minutes of inactivity on public transport getting to the airport in the first place. So imagine my dismay when on landing we are told we have to remain in our seats while the police come on board to deal with some passengers who had misbehaved during our flight.
Around 40 minutes and 8 police officers later, a frail ‘old’ woman who looked to be about 4 foot 10 was escorted off the plane along with about 4 or 5 others who all looked a bit dishevelled and sheepish. We were then allowed to go.
So what had occurred just a few rows behind me during the long flight that was so serious as to call on board the police in such numbers and create a delay for so many bleary eyed people who just wanted to get to their beds? I hadn’t slept as I had read throughout the flight but I had heard no arguing, no shouting and had seen no one stomping around.
Perhaps the two giggling, whispering cabin crew stood right next to my seat as I waited the police activity out could provide part of the answer. They clearly saw it as a bit of an adventure and loved the fact that a few gun toting police had come on board to strut their stuff so early in the morning. Eyeing up their physiques and saying which ones they liked the look of. Just Grow Up were the words I was dying to say.
For my part, given their simpering and giggling it occurred to me that they lacked any sort of ‘presence’ or ‘authority’ and if a passenger had kicked off on their watch then they probably wouldn’t even have the skills to calm the situation down and resolve any conflicts. So guess which two cabin crew would have been responsible for the unruly rows across the long flight? Yes! You guessed it, my two useless gigglers…
Its fine to call the police when you or the aircraft are threatened, but it’s not fine to use the police as the first port of call because you have not yet grown up enough to deal with the tough stuff in your job. Those ‘girls’ wasted everyone’s time that day, including their own. The plane was half full, if someone put their seat back and a row erupted, just move someone! If someone is being rude, stop serving them alcohol. If someone doesn’t know how to behave themselves tell them off and then get the airline to bar them from future travel. But don’t use the police as a first resort just because you fear conflict and have developed no skills to deal with conflict. If the airline was given a bill for the time taken to attend each time they had an unruly passenger, minds would soon focus on when the police genuinely did or did not need to be called.
We live in a world where the phrase ‘zero tolerance’ just trips off the tongue and everyone’s first port of call is to sue someone, or to make a written complaint or to call the police. What happened to using your own adult communication skills to resolve the situation first? What happened to doing the whole job, rather than just the bits of it you feel comfortable with?
Perhaps what companies need to do is to return to developing people’s skills to deal with conflict, communicate on sensitive issues, and address the problems that arise. And to make sure that staff know that the tough stuff and problems can’t just be passed on to someone else. It is truly embarrassing how weak and pathetic those cabin crew looked when you saw the age and frailty of the woman who was escorted off that plane. Is that the sort of image the airline wanted of the quality and professionalism of its staff? I suspect not.
So who lets your business down by shirking their responsibilities when it comes to dealing with the tough stuff? Any manager worked out how to look the part, but yet to learn how to act the part? Don’t let badly trained staff make your organisation look weak and pathetic, your customers will not thank you for it!
Helen Jamieson is the founder and managing director of Jaluch – an HR and Training consultancy. She has been running her commercial HR business for over 20 years and is known by both staff and clients for calling a spade a spade! If you want straight forward HR advice or training then why not connect with Helen? But more importantly, if you want to add something to this blog, your ideas, your opinions, then please start typing!