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An encounter with Michael Jobsworth

June 30, 2007

Every now and then you come across one of those petty minded bureaucrats who regard customers as a means to establish power and status otherwise missing from their small lives. The colloqual name for them is a Jobsworth. I came across one yesterday in Chicago airport, who went against the norm for American Airlines staff, who otherwise. on a fraught trip were the soul of helpfulness. Now I should say that American is my favorite airline (well it alternates a bit with Singapore AIrlines); I will fly to DC via Chicago from London rather than go direct which illustrates my loyalty. Yesterday is only one of two occasions I can remember in the last decade where I have been treated badly.

To tell the story, Atlanta was not having a good evening with flights. I was on the AA4445 due out at 1920 arriving in Chicago at 2030 which allowed me to connect with with a 2150 flight to London. The Admirals club put me into an earlier flight which was finally subject to a plane swap and a midnight departure time, after progressive delay announcements at 15 minute intervals. This was a shame as it meant I spent an hour standing at the gate waiting news rather than sitting in the lounge catching up on email, but my original booking had not been cancelled, but delays in incoming flights and refueling meant that we left late.

The pilot and steward on AA4445 were great. The former caught up on time so we got to the gate at 2135. The steward went out of his way to get those of us with connections of the plane first. However we still had to wait for the gate checked luggage to appear (it was one of those small American Eagle planes). I was optimally positioned to grab my bag and make a mad dash from the G gates to G16 and pray they were holding the flight. However I had reckoned without Michael.

He decided that the situation was far too messy and commanded us to line up one by one on the air bridge, from which positions we would be summoned one by one to collect our bags under his supervision. I pointed out that I had some 5 minutes before the scheduled departure of my flight. Now I thought his reaction would be to get those of us with tight connections at the head of the queue. To do so would be in our interests, and the interests of his employer who would otherwise be spending money on hotel bills and flight re-bookings. Not Michael, he wanted us lined up regardless of the urgency of the situation. My reaction was to be assertive (but not to shout) and my punishment for daring to challenge the authority of this sweating martinet (literal description) was to be sent to the back of the queue. My protest at this (now I will freely admit getting angry) resulted in him standing in front of the door stating that it would stay locked until I ceased to be a naughty boy and went to the back of the queue. I had little alternative but to comply. He had one last act of pettiness left in him however and he decided the help the person in front of me to get their bags, and his deliberately clumsy movements managed to add another 2-3 minutes delay.

On the good side the outgoing plane had been delayed, was overbooked and I got upgraded to first class which meant I got a good nights sleep. Otherwise this would have been a far more polemical blog. However I have to admit, that conspiracy theories caught up with me iand I had a waking dream between take off and the plane reaching cruising altitude, of being held in Guantanamo Bay by a combination of Michael and Uncle Jerry. However a friendly stewardess with a Gin and Tonic banished the duel nightmare. I will wait to see what reaction I get from American Airlines when I write

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