If you enjoy gin and tonics, sleep with your eyes open or have a mild allergy to dogs, listen up: You, too, could get kicked off a flight.
In other words, almost anyone could get booted from a plane, and for practically any reason. That’s the takeaway from one of this month’s top stories, which reminded all of us that even if you have a seat assignment, it’s not a sure thing until the wheels are up.
The incident in question, you’ll probably recall, involved Aryeh Ebrahimi and six of his teammates from the University of Central Florida soccer team. Ebrahimi and his friends were tossed off a recent Spirit Airlines flight for the crime of simply being on a flight.
“A flight attendant told us we had to deplane because we didn’t have seats guaranteed from Dallas to Orlando,” he explains. “The flight was overbooked.”
Ebrahimi’s story brought up all kinds of issues about the rules involved in an involuntarily denied boarding situation, which we won’t get into again. But one issue that it just touched on – and that merits further discussion – is how easy it is to get removed from a flight.
Turns out it’s almost too easy.
Remember Mike Murray’s story? This was one of our first “Should I Take The Case?” cases. As he waited with his two nephews and cousin in the first-class lounge to board his United Airlines flight from San Francisco to Washington, he consumed three gin and tonics in two hours.
United wasn’t exactly discouraging it. The drinks in the lounge are included in your membership, and it’s an almost a six-hour flight. Nothing like a G&T or two to make you fall asleep, right?
That’s exactly what happened to Murray, who’d given up 40,000 miles and $1,200 for his upgrade to first class. It wasn’t the only thing he would give up that day.
After Murray fell asleep shortly before takeoff, he felt a tap on his shoulder.
“A flight attendant asked if she could speak to me outside of the plane,” he remembers. “I disembarked the plane and the flight attendant told me that the captain did not want me to fly on the plane as I was ‘intoxicated.’ I asked her what I had done wrong and she stated nothing but that I was intoxicated.”
Murray didn’t protest. He asked what would become of the three other family members flying with him.
“About five minutes later they were told that the captain did not feel comfortable with them flying either and they were then ejected from the plane,” he says.
I didn’t take the case after receiving extensive feedback from readers.
Or how about Gregory Machon, who says he was kicked off his flight because he was sleeping. With his eyes open.
His condition, called nocturnal lagophthalmos, may affect somewhere between 4 and 20 percent of the population, so you would imagine the US Airways crewmembers who made the call to remove him from the flight had seen something like this before. Apparently not.
Machon was on a flight from Baltimore to Frankfurt when a flight attendant tried to get his attention, not realizing he was asleep. It turned into a real circus. Doctors were called, who speculated about his condition. Finally, two EMTs cleared him for flight. Then the flight attendant working in his section balked.
“She told the pilot that she was not willing to have me seated in her section, and that she considered me to be a liability,” he says.
Machon was also expelled.
And finally, there’s the odd case of Marilyn Bruno, who was flying from Miami to Boston on American Airlines. Bruno is allergic to dogs — technically, it’s a class 3 allergy, which is relatively mild and doesn’t require her to travel with an epinephrine pen.
When she boarded the flight , she found an unexpected passenger had joined her.
“I was getting ready to sit down in seat 14A when I heard the barking of a dog under my seat,” she says. “I stood up and told the young man and woman sitting in seats 15A and 15B that I was allergic to their dog because I immediately felt the first symptoms of an allergy attack.”
She asked a flight attendant to re-seat her.
“The dog owners started laughing and shouting loudly to the other passengers how cute their dog was and how it would not hurt anyone,” she says. That started an argument, of course.
Eventually, a flight attendant asked her to get off the plane.
“I said that I had important meetings in Boston that I could not reschedule, that this treatment was discriminatory,” she says. “Rather than listen to what I was saying, I was physically kicked off [the flight]. Another American Airlines employee who had come from the terminal got my carry-on bags.”
There’s an entire “kicked-off-a-plane” sub-genre on this site, and it makes for some fascinating reading. Most of the cases have the following in common:
- They’re one-sided stories (the other side almost never wants to chime in with their version) that begin with a “misunderstanding,” devolves into an argument and then escalates into a confrontation that requires airport police to intervene.
- The flight attendants are always on a power trip, trying to exert their supreme authority in the cabin, according to their victims — whether that’s true or not.
- The cases are un-advocatable, for the most part. An airline might add a little compensation to the mix, but I’ve never seen the company do an about-face, offer a full refund and an unconditional apology.
Still, when I review all of our stories about plane flights interrupted, I’m troubled at how easily it is to get ejected. It can happen for any reason and there’s really not much you can do about it. Once a flight attendant decides you don’t belong on a flight, you’re outta there!
To be fair, I’m sure there’s a little paperwork that has to be filled out when a crewmember pushes the “eject” button. And if someone kicks too many passengers off a plane for insubordination, I’m sure they’ll get a talkin’ to by their employer. But still, this absolute power has got to be one of the nicer perks of the job.
Maybe there’s really only one important takeaway for all of us: If you don’t think it can happen to you, you’re wrong. It can. But please don’t test that that theory – I really don’t want to write about you.