Cellphone cameras recorded the exact moment Saturday when passengers of easyJet flight 2122 lost what was left of their patience. It was 10:17 p.m. in Terminal 2 of the Nice Côte d’Azur International Airport in southern France.
In an instant, the stressed-out travellers seemed to embody the world’s collective frustration with the state of air travel, banding together at the departure gate to voice their anger over still waiting for their flight, which was scheduled to depart for London at 10:35 a.m.
“Why are you smiling?” a female passenger yelled at a gate attendant, according to a video of the episode published by the Sun. “This is a disgrace. We have children, babies.”
“Babies!” another woman interjected.
In the background, a man moved toward the attendant at the gate and, while holding a child in his left hand, tried to snap a photo of the attendant with his other hand. The employee swiftly slapped the cellphone to the floor.
The man retaliated, shoving his hand into the attendant’s shoulder and then his face. The attendant, regaining his footing, lunged forward and threw a jab into the man’s face. People gasped.
It was not clear if the man was hurt, but that moment epitomized how the patience of passengers is tested at every turn, from malfunctioning ticket kiosks to painfully slow lines at security to cramped seats in coach. On Saturday, it was another frustration of air travel — a delayed flight — that caused the easyJet passengers to lose it.
That flight has a 61 per cent on-time performance record, according to the website FlightStats.
Arabella Arkwright, a passenger who posted a photo of the employee punching the man, said the passengers were allowed to board the flight but were held on it for two hours because of a mishap during refuelling.
They were allowed to return to the terminal, she said, but without adequate seating or food. About 12 hours after the plane was supposed to depart, frustrations boiled over, and that is when Arkwright and her husband, Johnnie, said they saw the man and his wife confront the attendant.
“These airlines treat people so badly,” Arkwright, who lives in Warwickshire, in central England, said in an interview Monday. “You’re this little minnow fighting against this ruddy great shark.”
Arkwright wrote an open letter to easyJet’s chief executive, Carolyn McCall, in which she asked for answers about what happened.
“I request that you — not some lackey — write personally to every person on this flight with a full explanation,” she wrote. “I should hardly need to tell you that customers should be treated with respect, not disdain.”
She said that she hoped the episode would help improve customer service.
EasyJet apologized and said the gate agent was not an airline employee. “We are concerned to see this — it is not an easyJet staff member & they do not work for our ground handling agents,” the airline said on Twitter.
The airport said in a statement on Facebook that police were investigating. “Whatever the circumstances, the airport management firmly condemns this incident and has immediately asked that this staff member to be suspended,” the airport said.
The easyJet flight took off from the Nice airport a few minutes before midnight and landed at 1 a.m. in London — more than 12 hours after its scheduled arrival.