Complaining Effectively – A Flight Attendant’s Guide
Turns out, there is a nice way to say everything.
Jet lag, flight delays, crammed airplane seats: Getting from point A to point B doesn’t always bring out the best in us. But to make it through some of travel’s most stressful scenarios, you have to stay calm and choose your words wisely. Speak like this for smooth sailing through any want-to-pull-your-hair-out-and-scream situation.
You Need the Flight Attendant
Say: “My name,” suggests Joe Thomas, a flight attendant of nine years for a major airline. “‘Hi Joe. Can you help me with this person I’m sitting next to?’ comes across a whole lot different than, ‘I need you to fix this,’” he tells Condé Nast Traveler. “It makes me feel like you took the time to remember my name and to speak to me like I’m not your servant, but that we’re there on the plane together.”
Asking for help can switch on a compassionate side in someone else—if they empathize with you, they’ll be more likely to assist, says Andrew Newberg, M.D., co-author of Words Can Change Your Brain.
You Have a Complaint
Say: “I know this isn’t your fault, but I have a complaint. Whom can I direct it to?”
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“Ticket agents, gate agents, and flight attendants take crap from people all day who think they have been wronged,” says Julie Hickman, a corporate flight attendant. But chances are, the person you’re about to vent to isn’t the person who caused your problem (or can fix it, for that matter).
Filing a complaint online or in a post-flight survey are both good bets, says Thomas. Want an in-person conversation? Try a gate agent and ask for a supervisor, he says. Be brief, too. “Research shows that a person’s brain can only hold onto about 30 seconds worth of data,” says Newberg. Explain the situation and suggest the resolution you’re looking for, he suggests.
Your Bag Is Lost
Say: “I know you are doing your best, but it’s important I get my luggage by XYZ time. Can you help me?”
Take a few deep breaths or a nice deep yawn to relax yourself before you speak, says Newberg. Force a smile, too. The brain has mirror neurons that mimic internally what a person sees in another, he says. “If you begin the encounter with a smile, it will make the person trying to help you smile inside and produce a more positive emotional stance.”
You Want a Better Experience
Say: “I know how hard you guys work.”
There might not be words to score a free first class upgrade, but Thomas says compassionate travelers usually benefit. So do gift-bearers. “Chocolate makes everything better,” he says. “If a flight attendant knows you brought something, they’ll likely come up and say thanks; that can lead to comped drinks, comped movies, and if there were seats available, that would be your chance.”
by CASSIE SHORTSLEEVE
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