Millions of Americans will travel this holiday season, and for many of them, riding the trains, planes, and automobiles can be a stressful experience. This was certainly the case aboard a recent flight on Delta Air Lines when one man–an abusive supporter of Donald Trump–began harassing his fellow passengers and crew.
On a flight from Atlanta to Allentown, Pennsylvania the week before Thanksgiving, a passenger stood in the aisle and started shouting at his captive audience. “Donald Trump, baby,” he began, clapping his hands above his head, later adding, “Donald Trump is your president, every God damn one of you. If you don’t like it, too bad.” He also accosted some of the female passengers on the flight, shouting, “We got some Hillary b*****s on here?”
As he ranted, another passenger recorded the incident on their phone and posted a 45-second video to Facebook, which went viral after being seen by 2.2 million people. One of the people who saw it was none other than Delta CEO Ed Bastian, who quickly sent a companywide letter in response.
In his message, Bastian said that Delta had apologized to the passengers aboard the flight and refunded them the full cost of their tickets. He also pointed out that the abusive passenger had been banned from ever flying Delta in the future.
“We must stay true to Delta’s core values and treat one another with dignity and respect,” he said. “We also must remain committed more than ever to the safety of our customers and our crew members. We will not tolerate anything less.”
Despite the passenger’s comments about Trump and Hillary Clinton, this isn’t a political story. It’s not even a story about the relationship between politics and business practices. It’s a story about effective leadership.
Ultimately, not only what the passenger did was treat the other passengers and crew aboard the flight rudely. He created a hostile environment by shouting and even went so far as to insult women on the plane by calling them “Hillary b*****s.” As Bastian says in his letter, those actions go against Delta’s “core values” of “dignity and respect,” so he acted to uphold those values using the strongest tool available to him: placing a lifetime ban on the passenger.
Standing up for the company’s values reminds employees exactly what those values are, and it also demonstrates that the employees are valued. Bastian says that “we will not tolerate anything less” than courteous, respectful treatment for employees and he follows through on that promise. An action like this lets the employees know that he has their backs, which will certainly help in cultivating loyalty and respect for the company’s values and mission.
At the same time, Bastian shows he’s on the employees’ team by his use of the word “we.” He says that it was a mistake to leave the passenger on the plane and not remove him sooner, but he doesn’t chastise the flight crew for not doing so. Instead, he says it was “our” mistake and that “we” can learn from it. He places himself right in the trenches with his employees with the word “we,” and he establishes that he supports the decisions they made based on the information they had at the time. It’s an excellent way to show trust and team spirit.
Social Media in Action
This incident also illustrates the power of social media. If this had happened 10 years ago, the only people to know about it would be the passengers and crew of that flight. Today, however, everyone has a smartphone with a camera and immediate access to the Internet, where they can tell the entire world about their experiences. Anyone and everyone has the world in their pocket thanks to social media, so any moment of bad behavior can be caught on camera and become a social storm.
So while the angry passenger stood up to shout about Trump, Bastian stood up to show his support for his company’s values. He stood up to show that he had faith in his employees and that he wouldn’t tolerate anyone disrespecting them. In short, he was a leader.