My last blog post tried to prepare travelers for the reality of Covid restrictions and holiday travel.  I want to focus on holiday travel and travelers’ role in the overall experience in this post.  We have all heard the horror stories of unruly passengers and the obnoxious behavior that affects many others.  Here are a few behind-the-scenes realities of airline agents I’d like you to be aware of next time you travel.  I hope your knowledge will make you a kinder traveler.

Airline ticketing agent.

This person is probably your first point of contact at the airport.  The ticketing agent checks your bag or handles any airline-related issue before you are even through security.  Ticket agents are responsible for ticketing, baggage, complaints, cancellations, lost luggage, weather delays, and other traveler problems.  They enforce rules made by the company, and they don’t personally make up rules just for you.  And yes, they can be fired for not following the rules.  So, when it comes to their livelihood or your demand, guess which takes priority?

Here are a few things I think they would like to tell you but can’t.
  • No, we can’t just give a free upgrade, it’s a computerized system, and big brother is watching.
  • Don’t be late and take responsibility for your poor planning and actions.
  • Saying no is not being rude. We are following the rules made by the company, not by us.
  • You get more with honey than vinegar. Treat me right, and I will do the best I can.
  • If you’re rude and yelling, do you think I want to help you?

Gate agents.

The gate agent is the person who, as the name suggests, works your departure gate.  If you have traveled recently, you may have noted that there is usually only one or two gate agents at the departure gate.  Due to airline cost-cutting, gate agents often work alone.  They must meet the inbound flight, coordinate unaccompanied minors and wheelchairs, answer passengers’ questions, clear the standby list, process upgrades, and board the plane.  If this seems like a lot of work, that’s because it is! Additionally, gate agents are also required to get the airplane out on time. This means getting every passenger onboard and seated before the airplane doors can be closed for departure.

Here are a few things I think they would like to tell you but can’t.
  • We can see everything about your ticket, including how much you paid, when and where you paid. Lying about how expensive your ticket was or that it was a first-class ticket is pointless.
  • On an oversold flight, we do have the discretion to move passengers to first class. However, the choice is usually automated and based on fare price or elite status. In rare cases, your behavior or the way you are dressed helps inform my decision.
  • My boarding time decision depends on plenty of factors. Is the airplane clean? Does it have enough crew members? Does air traffic control have a hold on the boarding process? There are many other reasons, and staring at me or crowding the boarding area will not make the decision faster.
  • We are accountable for getting the flight out on time except in the cases of weather or a mechanical delay.
  • The computer system shows how many people are connecting and their chances of making the flight. Delaying the flight for just a few passengers is often not an option as the airplane must be at its destination at the designated time.

I know that traveling is stressful for passengers, but it is also stressful for the agents who work with hundreds of passengers daily. The airport is fast-paced and hectic, and there is rarely time for bathroom breaks.  Give grace and practice kindness to your agents next time you travel.

If this has made you think differently about your previous airport experience, let me know.