Having spent a lot of my adult life traveling and working abroad, I’ve usually make an effort to try different airlines when I can. And because of that I’ve been on some interesting, stressful and adventurous flights… but the worse experience in recent memory has been the service I received on Air France.
You’d think that in normal circumstances, especially for transcontinental/international flights, airlines make an effort to provide a relaxing and enjoyable experience. I usually try to avoid low-cost airlines for this reason… I want to enjoy the experience. Having taken Air France a few times, the quality of service and food is decent, so I was quite shocked last month when I received one of the worst experiences ever.
Knowing that I had to mentally and physically prepare myself for a trip to Canada from France with my 2-year old daughter, I’d made every preparation I could think of to make sure the flight would go smoothly. Getting rest before the flight. Check. Headphones and toys for the flight. Check. Mid-plane seats for the both of us. Check.
So as we got on the plane for a 13-hour flight which included a change-over in Amsterdam, I was ready. What I wasn’t ready for was the on-board service I received from a flight attendant before taking off on the first-leg of our flight from Marseille to Amsterdam. I made sure to buy a seat for both of us because having my daughter, who had just turned 2 a day before the flight, sitting on my lap for the trip wasn’t going to happen… and travelers are allowed to reserve seats for an infant.
And as it goes with any child, no matter how much you prepare, things just don’t go according to plan. Théa normally travels well, but when we had to wake up at 5am to drive an hour to get to the airport to catch our flight, you’d expect any child to be grumpy. And so she was as we found our seats and were getting ready for the departure… that meant a lot of crying and frustration. Basically she didn’t want to sit in her seat and be buckled in.
I had already asked one of the head flight attendant to keep our stroller (Dear all airlines, the Babyzen Yoyo stroller isn’t the only stroller made for traveling – see the Mountain Buggy Nano!) so I could have it for the transfer in Amsterdam. She was more than accommodating so I thought “Great, I’ll be able to ask for help if/when I need it for this trip.” Oh, was I wrong…
The second we got to our seats, Théa wouldn’t sit still and she started to get frustrated and cry. Since I had to get her to use her seat belt before taking off, it made the situation even more tense. I was given a warning by the second flight attendant that she had to be strapped in. As the plane was leaving the gate to take off, this same flight attendant came back again and told me, in the most obnoxious and least courteous tone, that the flight would not take off without Théa being buckled in. So I asked to get the child seat belt so she could sit on my lap for take off. Here’s where it gets worse…
No, you can’t have a child seat belt. It’s your fault.
She said, “No, you can’t have a child seat belt. It’s your fault.” implying that it was somehow my fault that I had bought a seat for Théa and that she had to use it even though she was crying and unwilling to sit in the seat. After that she walked away. As I struggled to calm Théa, both the guy sitting beside me and I looked at each other and wondered what just happened.
Within a minute the head flight attendant came to see what was going on. After a bit of discussion, she quickly made an assessment of the situation and came back with the child seat belt and a couple small muffins for Théa. This dramatically reduce not only my stress but also Théa’s stress as she calmed down, sat on my lap and allowed to be buckled in, and happily enjoyed her snacks… she fell asleep soon after and only woke up just before we landed in Amsterdam.
It’s better to be gentle and show some empathy rather than to be aggressive.
Inter-personal communication is so underrated yet so important especially in stressful moments like I experienced on this flight. As my neighbor, who looked like he was a father of two boys, told the head flight attendant, “It’s better to be gentle and show some empathy rather than to be aggressive.”
Whether it’s about parenting or the challenges in life, this reaction of putting blame or faulting others does not help and can create more animosity and negativity that we as individuals and as a society don’t need.