JAL reveals revolutionary new
air safety strategy: Don't fly!
By Laddie Monbulk
April 6, 2004
Japan Airlines prides itself on exceptional service, but hundreds of customers were left stranded at Tokyo's Haneda Airport recently following an unprecedented bitter spat between a pilot and his cabin crew, according to Shukan Gendai (4/17).
"We've never heard before of a flight being canceled because of an argument between airline staff," a Ministry of Transport insider tells Shukan Gendai. "And, to be honest, we don't really know the proper way to go about handling it, either. For starters, though, we've issued a severe reprimand to the JAL executive in charge."
Japan's top carrier found itself in trouble as a flight arrived in Haneda, with the plane expected to return to Fukuoka almost immediately.
But the pilot got into a torrid tussle with his flight crew and the return trip was canceled. Another current domestic line pilot explains why.
"It all started because a passenger undid their seat belt as the plane was taxiing along the runway at Haneda while the sign indicating seat belts had to be buckled remained lit. Passengers aren't allowed to stand. The law says so," the pilot says. "What's more, the passenger asked one of the flight crew to get his suit jacket for him and one of the flight attendants complied, undoing his seat belt and walking around to do it, even though he should have been buckled up. When the pilot learned what had happened, he refused to fly with the same crew again, saying he felt threatened working with people who refused to obey rules."
Instead of preparing for their return trip, a bitter argument broke out between the male flight attendant who left his seat, the pilot and another five stewardesses who had been on the flight. JAL honchos were called in to mediate, but the pilot absolutely refused to work with the people who weren't wearing seat belts even after the plane had landed. The airline canceled the return trip, telling the 270 passengers forced to take alternative flights that the pilot was ill.
JAL reported the incident to the Transport Ministry, but kept it a secret from the public and media. Airline officials are apologetic now, though.
"Our group sees its prime social responsibility as providing safe flights. We need time to deal with the problem caused because somebody broke the rules about wearing seat belts We are terribly sorry that our customers have been inconvenienced," a JAL spokesman tells Shukan Gendai.
Fixing the problem may not be as easy as it seems.
"It's a bigger problem than it looks and there's no easy solution," the domestic airline pilot says. "As of January, flight captains are now held personally responsible under the law for the safety of all passengers and flight crew on their planes. In that regard, the pilot's stance of placing safety first was correct. But, on the other hand, it's hard to criticize the cabin attendant who left his seat because he only did so in the interests of providing better service for a passenger."
Outsiders, however, have a different opinion, saying the incident is a perfect example of the pompous way some airlines treat customers.
"JAL pilots, flight crews, desk clerks and even maintenance staff are all full of themselves," airline industry commentator Kenchi Aoki tells Shukan Gendai. "They usually don't know how to act with common sense. This incident is typical JAL behavior."