Can this trip be saved? Caught in the middle of an in-flight altercation


They say there are two sides to every story. But in today’s installment of “Can this trip be saved?” there are three.

That would be the passenger’s, the crewmember’s and Christina Ernst’s. She’s the travel agent. Ernst isn’t sure what to do about this case, and after hearing about it, neither am I.

Maybe you can help.

Her client contacted her last month because she needed to get to Germany quickly. Her mother was dying.

“I found her a last minute consolidator fare saving her $500 into Frankfurt,” says Ernst. “Her mother did pass away, and she tried to change her ticket coming home, since she had to settle her estate.”

Her airline, US Airways, told her it would cost somewhere between $1,300 and $1,500 to change her ticket to a week later. Ernst told her to go to the airport instead, to see if she could do better. She ended up paying a 700 euro change fee, plus a $176 euro re-issue fee, even thought her client showed the ticket agent a death certificate.

To add insult to injury, US Airways insisted that she pay a 55 euro fee for her second checked bag.

After the flight was in the air, they told passengers they would be charging for head phones and drinks. My client asked, “Since when?” and a crew member told her “For years.” But my client did not have to pay on her way to Germany for either.

About an hour and a half into the flight the crew began serving meals. The crew member offered her a meal but my client informed her that she had ordered an Asian vegetarian meal three hours earlier when she checked in. My client stated the crew member was not friendly and told her they had no vegetarian dishes.

At this time, my client had reached a boiling point and said, “What the F#@% is wrong with you people?”

Uh-oh.

You can imagine what happened next.

A crew member was brought over, and she told the Ernst’s client that she’d be arrested after they landed. Her offense? “Interfering with a crew member.”

The client began crying. She tried to explain she’d had a horrible week, with her mother dying. The crewmembers didn’t buy it.

One crewmember left and returned with a NOTICE OF FEDERAL REGULATION VIOLATION. The crewmember told my client that the authorities were already in place in Philadelphia to arrest her immediately upon landing. She told her she had no rights nor would be served anymore, including water.

Two hours before landing, Ernst’s client, feeling a little dehydrated from all the crying and lack of water, apologized to the crewmember. The apology was accepted and the arrest was called off. She was also offered food.

“The attendant that gave her the original warning came by and threw a sandwich in her lap an hour after everyone else’s snacks were given out,” she says.

So now what?

I am truly in the middle. I do believe my client, but also do not know what to say or send into US Airways.

She really just wants them to work with her on her fees, even with proof of bereavement, and she feels they were too hard on her. She swears she did not curse at the crew member but ‘just in general’ because of the service.

Where should I go from here?

Well, this one raises a few interesting questions, doesn’t it?

1) Is dropping the F-bomb the same thing as “interfering” with the crew, or is it merely offending a flight attendant?

2) If the flight was from Germany to the United States, and they were over the ocean when this happened, how can they invoke federal law? I’m no lawyer, so maybe someone can clarify.

3) Did US Airways deserve this treatment for luring Ernst’s client in with a low fare in her hour of need and then bilking her with ridiculous fees? Or is this just the way the game is played — you offer a low fare and then sock it to the passenger when life happens?

Ernst is sending this to US Airways. “I have no problem going to bat for my clients but this one crosses a fine line that makes it difficult in my line of work,” she says.

If US Airways tells her client to take a hike — and I’m pretty sure it will — then should I take the case?

I don’t know. I’ve always been a big believer in the power of politeness, and I think Ernst’s client should have tried to handle this through more conventional means, instead of swearing at the attendant. But on the other hand, I think if my mother had died and the airline was trying to bilk me for more than a thousand bucks, I’d be tempted to give a crewmember a piece of my mind.

Should I get involved?

Update: Just heard back from Ernst: “US Airways responded with a $150 travel voucher and a note stating they are very sorry about the incident they will speak to the flight attendant involved, but due to confidentiality laws that’s where it ends.

(Photo: The Wingy/Flickr Creative Commons)

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at . Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

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