Sunday, June 23, 2013

Unpleasant Encounter With A Passenger

I was in my mid 20s, then I was working as passenger handling officer with KLM Royal Dutch Airlines at the airport.  I have had encountered many unpleasant situations with passengers but I still remember this one quite well, that year should be in 1987.  I was on the afternoon shift but I came to office early.  I received a call from the counter that a passenger arrived after the closure of the check-in and demanded to be checked in.  Our flight was heading to Jakarta.  I then radioed my Station Manager, Henk van Dinther who was handling the flight if he could allow one 'last minute passenger' and approval was granted.  I rushed straight down to process the check-in.  She was a young American lady, not exactly nice in her disposition when I met her.  As I was helping to expedite with the check-in and before handling over the boarding pass to her, I asked for the airport tax payment.  During our time, airport tax was S$12 and we must collect cash at the check-in counter.  She refused to pay citing she had no money.  She claimed her money was stolen and she insisted to leave this 'damned place'.  I told her that paying airport tax is mandatory.  Admittedly, I was prepared to pay for her if her money was indeed stolen.  She started to shout at me and the moment she used the F language on me, I walked away.  I refused to talk to her anymore.  I was walking into the restricted zone and she was shouting loudly for me to come back.  She said she had the money and wanted to be checked-in.  She then ran to me but was stopped by the police as it was a restricted zone.  She was refused check-in by me and therefore, missed the afternoon flight to Jakarta.

After the flight departed, I walked back to my office.  She was waiting at the office and when she saw me, she wanted to have my name.  I handed my airport pass to her.  I even handed a piece of paper and pen for her to write her complaint.  She was left waiting for my Station Manager and I continued to mind my own business. 

Not long later, Henk arrived back to the office.  He was a rotund man, then in his 40s and quite a jovial chap too.  She told him that she wanted to file a complaint against me.  He sat her down in his office, heard her recounting the entire incident.  After the conversation, he re-booked her flight to Jakarta on the following day.  He was nice throughout, listening and the moment she walked out of the office, he immediately tore her complaint letter into pieces and threw it into the rubbish bin.  This lady had to pay for another night of accommodation and earlier she claimed her money was stolen, she now had extra money for another day stay in Singapore.  She was trying to get away not paying airport tax and was trying to act aggressive to the extent of being vulgar, only to backfire on herself.  I did not retaliate the moment she uttered the F word.  First, she is a lady and it is not nice for guys to be verbally abusive to a lady.  I am representing my airline and I am the front liner, I have to maintain the image too.

From that moment on, my respect for Mr Henk van Dinther had gone further up.  He did not even want to question me why I decided to 'bump off' the lady.  He respected my decision.  He handled the situation well, acted professionally in front of the lady but not admitting liability on our side such as according her free accommodation or waiver of airport tax, nothing.  Years after I left the airline, I heard from some former colleagues that he passed away in Holland from cancer.  He was a jolly good fellow and I have had enjoyed working under him.  He is still missed whenever I think of him.        

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