Article originally published in the Philadelphia Business Journals on August 23, 2021.
One of the signs of effective leadership is to celebrate employees for doing the right thing even if it violates a company policy or procedure. On August 9, I wrote about my own experience on this issue. Today, I write about a widely reported event at Frontier Airlines on Aug. 4.
During a flight from Philadelphia to Miami, an unruly intoxicated Frontier Airlines passenger was taped to his seat to protect the crew and other passengers. He reportedly groped two flight attendants and punched another in the face. The passenger was taken into custody after the plane landed in Miami.
The crew was placed on paid leave pending further investigation for not following proper procedures in restraining the unruly passenger. How did Frontier Airlines think their flight attendants would react when the company did not support the crew on this flight?
ABC News reported on the comments of Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants, who said, “Management should be supporting the crew at this time, not suspending them. We will be fighting this with every contractual and legal tool available, but we would hope there will be no need for that as management comes to their senses and supports the people on the frontline charged with keeping all passengers safe.”
Due to the backlash, Frontier released the following obligatory statement: “Frontier Airlines maintains the utmost value, respect, concern and support for all of our flight attendants, including those who were assaulted on this flight. We are supporting the needs of these team members and are working with law enforcement to fully support the prosecution of the passenger involved.”
Actions are much more meaningful than words. As of this writing, the crew has not been reinstated by the airline.
As I read about this incident, I recall a lesson taught to me early in my career – always support sound decisions made by your people. I would seriously question the common sense and critical judgment of the Frontier manager who suspended the crew, and question why that decision was not immediately reversed by executive management. That manager was not there and cannot judge whether the procedure for restraining the passenger was the right one, given the circumstances.
Frontier Airlines should have publicly praised the flight attendants and thanked the passengers who assisted them. Based on the outcome of the investigation, Frontier should judge whether the current procedure for restraining unruly passengers is too narrow. The current procedure may not allow for judgment in volatile, fast-moving situations.
The right thing for Frontier Airlines to do is immediately reinstate the crew, acknowledge they should have never been suspended and revise the procedure to allow for the use of critical judgment in these circumstances.
This is why all companies need to hire people with good critical judgment, especially customer-facing employees, so they know what to do if a procedure falls short. Companies also need to hire managers who will not punish employees who use critical judgment, even if it may violate a company policy or procedure.
Stan Silverman is founder and CEO of Silverman Leadership and author of “Be Different! The Key to Business and Career Success.” He is also a speaker, advisor and widely read nationally syndicated columnist on leadership, entrepreneurship and corporate governance. He can be reached at Stan@SilvermanLeadership.com.