By Michael Gunther

I recently was on a flight from Oakland to Kauai and had an odd experience with one of the flight attendants – ok, odd isn’t quite accurate, she was blatantly disrespectful and intentionally rude.

Before you’re welcomed to the Hawaiian Islands, the state of Hawaii requires a completed Agricultural Declaration form to identify any foreign animals or plants that might come into their contained environment. This is standard and very similar to a customs form which is required in order to enter a foreign country. As an annual visitor to Hawaii, I’ve completed this form many times. It’s simply routine now, especially since my mind was focused on the much needed week of R & R that was just beginning.

As the flight attendant came to our row with the forms, I said I only needed one since we (I pointed to Steve, my life partner) were together. She immediately began to argue with me, asking if we had the same last name and insinuating we didn’t count as the same party. I assured her that we were together – for the past 18 years to be exact – but she insisted we were not.

I had to literally debate her and state that we are a ‘legal domestic partnership and registered in the state of California,’ at which time she tossed the form at us and angrily walked away. She proceeded to the front of the plane and relayed this story to another flight attendant, who replied and then continued with her work. There was no apology and no hint of customer service or awareness of the severity of the situation.

I was thoroughly embarrassed; other passengers were staring at us. I was angry that we’d had to endure her lack of training and her ignorance, and because of her actions I will never fly that airline again – no matter the cost of alternate travel arrangements. I realize there are more extreme cases of poor service that happen regularly, but this truly was the first time that I have felt deliberately disrespected because of who I am.

I then began to read the form, and right in the beginning it clearly stated that only one form was required per party – in fact, your party could be six different people as long as you lived in the same household! Wow. I really started to fume. Was this her first flight? Did this company not train their employees? Did the company deem it acceptable to discriminate against their customers?

The story continued to unfold as I learned that she was actually a senior flight attendant. How could she not understand her role? She had made a conscious decision to treat a passenger with disrespect and for what reason? Was she even aware of the damage her actions could have on her job and ultimately her employer?

Organizations that don’t value their customers and provide poor service – much less display discriminatory attitudes and behaviors – do not deserve my business. In addition, in this economy where businesses are struggling to survive, especially within the airline industry, how can they possibly afford to treat customers as if they don’t matter?

The Bottom Line

Businesses must be aware of how their employees are representing their organizations, and issues of bad customer service need to be addressed immediately. Especially in the age of social media, your reputation for bad service will spread rapidly and damage your image and your brand permanently.

So, Alaska Airlines, you should consider how you’re training your employees and spend some significant time focusing on creating a culture of inclusivity and a reputation of exceptional service. This will be the last time I fly your airline. Good luck in the friendly skies – wait, that’s the other airline I do like to fly.

This is another article in a series on Michael’s entrepreneurial story and how being raised in a large family has influenced his career. To read the previous articles in this series, visit his blog at

Michael Gunther is Founder and President of Collaboration LLC, a team of highly skilled business professionals who are dedicated to assisting proactive business owners to build profitable, sustainable businesses through results-oriented education and consulting services. Learn more at

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