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Interesting Findings And World Unfolding Through My Eyes.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Ticket Agent ......

Be nice to your ticket agent. Otherwise you could end up like Barbara Arbani.

Arbani is a frequent flier who runs a bed and breakfast in New Hope, Pa., and she’s a self-described “innocuous-looking grandmother.” But that’s not how a US Airways ticket agent in Philadelphia apparently saw her.

After a polite disagreement with the airline employee about her seat assignments, Arbani found herself being sent to a special Transportation Security Administration screening area as a “selectee,” courtesy of the agent. “Didn’t know airline employees got their jabs in when they could,” she says.
Do they ever.

In interviews with ticket agents, airline employees and travelers, I’ve learned that ticket agents can punish problem passengers in a variety of ways, often without anyone even knowing it. They can exact their revenge on travelers by bumping them off flights, forcing them to check more luggage or, in Arbani’s case, sending them to a security line for a once-over from the TSA.

That’s not to suggest that America’s airports are staffed by vindictive airline employees. Despite their industry’s recent turbulence, most airline workers are professionals who wouldn’t think of abusing their position. But you never know when you’re going to meet a rogue agent — or when you might rub an otherwise law-abiding airline employee the wrong way, incurring that person’s quiet wrath.

Here are four ways ticket agents take it out on you — and how to make sure they don’t get away with it:

Congratulations, you’re a selectee. Here’s what happened to Arbani: When she checked in at the counter, she made the mistake of asking the agent if there were any seats closer to the front of the aircraft. “The agent had been speaking with a co-worker,” she remembers. “It was just a social conversation, not work-related, and she felt we had interrupted her.” Irritated, the agent arbitrarily picked two random seats up front, but Arbani didn’t like them and asked to be moved back.

“The agent then harrumphed, rolled her eyes at her co-worker, and reprinted the original seat,” says Arbani. But these boarding passes were different. These had a line of red Ss stamped across the top, indicating they would have to undergo a secondary screening at the TSA checkpoint. A TSA agent later confirmed that it was the miffed agent who designated her a selectee. “This sometimes happens,” he told her. (Asked about this, US Airways spokeswoman Andrea Rader said ticket agents, “wouldn’t do this, for all the reasons you might imagine, [and] primarily because the security system is for security, not other matters.”)

How to get around it? Don’t even try. The agents may think they’re punishing you, but they could be doing you a favor. Sometimes, the line for selectees moves faster than the regular line.
How about a seat next to the bathroom? If you thought you had a good seat assignment, think again. Ticket agents can reassign you to another, less desirable, seat if you give them a good enough reason. You might end up in a dreaded middle seat, or a seat near the back of the plane by the lavatory. Nancy Miller, a former airline ticket agent who lives in San Francisco, says it’s a favorite tactic of her trade. That’s because it’s difficult to prove a passenger was moved for the wrong reasons. The only time an agent gets in trouble is when a displaced traveler is either “very angry or very important,” she says, which isn’t often.

She’s seen a seating showdown from both sides of the counter. On a recent flight, she caught a ticket agent attaching the wrong tag to her checked-in luggage, which would have sent her belongings to another airport. Miller politely corrected the agent. Then she asked for an aisle seat. The ticket agent claimed there were none. Which was wrong. Once she arrived at the gate, Miller learned there were plenty of free aisle seats. “The idea that someone completely incompetent and vindictive has any power at all is very scary,” she adds.

How to get around it? If a ticket agent moves you into an undesirable seat for what you believe is the wrong reason, either ask for a supervisor or see if you can be moved to a better seat when you arrive at the gate.
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