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For AA Reservations Agents Verbal Abuse and Stress Are Daily Challenges

Although many Americans are stumbling toward more normal school and work situations as COVID-19 infections decline, mandatory overtime and rude customers are still creating stress for most airline agents, including those in reservations. We talked with two agents in the Dallas-Fort Worth area to get their perspective on these challenging times.

[caption caption="CWA Agent Alisha Moore" align="left"]

Alisha Moore is a veteran agent at American Airlines who has worked at the company for 22 years, and Mary Starkey has been a reservations agent with American for 35 years and counting. 

For months, persistent staff shortages have put most agents, including Alisha and Mary, on high alert, working many hours of overtime. Pressure from management to move quickly from call to call only adds to the strain.

Mary told us that COVID-19 infections are still common in her area, and that makes things unpredictable. She has seen a lot of her coworkers retire as a result of the frustrations of the past two years, and replacing skilled agents isn’t easy.

“We are getting new hires now,” she explained, “but some soon discover they don’t like the pay or the shifts, and so they go to lunch and never come back.” Mary has opted in to work six extra hours every week, hoping to gain more control over her schedule. But that doesn’t solve the problem of high stress when she is on calls.

“You always know before you get to work that you’ll have difficult customers. Some of them are so horribly, horribly rude, and you have to learn to deal with them mistreating you. For so many of our agents, it is just mentally exhausting. It’s hard to have a good work-life balance right now.”

Alisha has many of the same frustrations as Mary. Alisha is currently the special assistance coordinator for disabilities passengers, making sure passengers with special needs have the right help and documents to get to their destinations. Even in normal times, her job isn’t easy because she has to guide customers through tricky paperwork for themselves and service animals, and make sure passengers stay calm through what is often a frustrating maze of checkpoints.

“Every single shift customers get angry, yell, and ask me what I’m there for if I can’t help them. The verbal abuse is now a daily occurence. I know some of the customers I talk to are at the end of their rope, and they’re tired of waiting on hold for two or three hours,” said Alisha. “But right now we just don’t have enough people to handle the call volume. That means more work for everyone. Besides doing my specialty function, I now take calls for reservations and switch back and forth between duties, which is exhausting.” 

We asked Alisha and Mary how they cope with the stress.

[caption caption="CWA Agent Mary Starkey" align="right"]

“You have to be able to forget about your home life while you’re at work and forget about your work life when you’re at home,” said Mary. “I’ve been doing this a long time, and when I go home I don’t bring work with me. Unfortunately, some of the things we are dealing with just cannot be fixed, and we sometimes have to accept that. I hope that when we have fewer flight cancellations and delays, reservations will be able to provide customers with what they need.” 

“Everybody needs more patience in the current situation,” said Alisha. “I have to take a couple of seconds every time I have a customer who is abusive. If I take two seconds, and tell myself I have to stay positive, I can make it through my shift.”

Passenger service agents across the country are dealing with the same issues as Mary and Alisha. One way to help is to get the message to passengers that “we’re in this together” and must be kind to each other.

Some of our brothers and sisters in CWA District 6 created a video that gets to the heart of the matter. Please share with friends, family, and your community: