It seems like every few months there’s an unfortunate story of someone being kicked off of a plane in the United States. Most widely publicized is the 2017 United Airlines incident where a passenger was bloodied and forcibly removed from a flight. Sometimes these removal stories appear to be for valid reasons while other viral stories are just bizarre. If you do a quick Google or YouTube search for “Passenger removed from airplane for…” the results will give you a list of reasons from “body odor” to “fat shaming” to “yelling at a Trump supporter” along with wild stories and videos. There was even the time a woman was denied bringing her emotional support peacock on board a flight.
Ridiculous stories aside, this morning I learned about a serious one involving a Frontier Airlines flight out of Las Vegas that appears to have a lot of unanswered questions. The incident resulted in a mother being removed from a plane and arrested in front of her 14 year-old daughter who was placed in child protective custody. YIKES!
The alleged reason behind the arrest doesn’t seem appropriate for the outcome and it got me thinking about why these unfortunate incidents happen so frequently in America compared to the rest of the world and how my flying experiences vary greatly in both regions.
First of All, Here is What Happened in Vegas
The woman who was involved in the incident was flying from Las Vegas to North Carolina. When she and her daughter took their seats, things went downhill fast. There was allegedly vomit on the seat which got onto her child’s shirt, bag and hands. At this point, the 14 year-old told her mother, Rosetta Swinney, who notified a flight attendant. According to Swinney, the flight attendant replied “that’s not my job” and offered her Clorox wipes to clean the vomit herself.
Frontier Airlines claims that when the vomit was discovered, the flight attendant offered to have Swinney and her daughter placed at the front of the plane while the vomit was cleaned and that if new seats were available once boarding was complete, they could change to new seats.
Regardless of how the problem started, it resulted in Metro Police boarding the plane and removing the two travelers. The entire plane was deboarded and Rosetta Swinney was arrested while yelling to other passengers, “They’re going to try and arrest me because they have throw-up on the plane. This is not right. This is not right. All y’all see what happened on that plane. All y’all see what happened on that plane!” There is video of the arrest and Swinney’s daughter crying while her mother is removed in handcuffs. Swinney was detained for 12 hours and faces trespassing charges.
Other passengers confirmed the story Swinney told, that the flight attendant said “that’s not my job” and offered Swinney to clean the vomit herself without offering them new seats.
Why so Serious?
This response seems extreme to me. Sure, there are two sides to the story and unless you’re there it’s hard to judge, but everyone does. More cell phone videos may come out, but regardless, I tried to think of why these extreme measures would be taken by the airline. First I wondered what would happen for someone to even be kicked off of a flight. I found some information collected by Business Insider that slants towards the airline’s defense in these situation, but mentions that the chief flight attendant is responsible for making the calls to remove passengers during boarding or divert planes once airborne. Here’s a link to the article about how to get kicked off a flight in America: 5 Things You’d Have to Do to Get Kicked Off Your Next Flight
I’m surprised to learn that cursing at a flight attendant would immediately be considered a threat and grounds for removal from a flight. I don’t advocate cussing at anyone in a service role, but refusing a customer their flight and disrupting their travel should be a last resort. If my kid sat in vomit, I would probably curse. If the person working for the company I paid and trusted to care for my travels replied “it’s not my job to clean that up,” I would definitely curse at them. The professional responsibility to diffuse a situation lies with the flight attendant, not Metro Police. I don’t like wading into race-related politics, but it would be wrong to ignore that race could be a factor in the response and severity of action taken by the airline against these women of color.
This Would Never Fly in the EU (bad pun alert)
The majority of flights I take these days are in the EU and I have a significantly better travel experience on fights that originate in Europe. Flights I have taken to and from Africa and Asia are also better as a consumer. This is because even European discount fliers like RyanAir (definitely not known for service) are bound by the EU Passenger Bill of Rights. These passenger protections relate mostly to travel delays on any form of transit, but consumer rights in the EU are ubiquitous across industries. Whether it’s data protection (GDPR), travel or banking, consumers have power over corporate interests in Europe.
Flying in America often feels more like walking on egg shells, especially if you aren’t an experienced flyer. Of course it’s not every employee at the airport, but security staff often feel more like night club bouncers and even airline staff act in a way that makes the Frontier Airlines story very believable.
I spoke to a friend who worked in Europe for SAS, Scandinavian Airlines, about the Las Vegas incident and he said it seems like it’s much easier to be removed from a flight in America compared to Europe. He added that intoxication is the most common reason to remove someone, but a discrete conversation is all it takes to diffuse most situations. According to him, a passenger would have to be extremely abusive to other passengers or staff to warrant removal from a flight, well beyond yelling or complaining. Regarding the vomit he said that it may not be the flight attendant’s duty to clean, but they should have taken care of the passengers right away and assured them it would be cleaned – if the passenger wasn’t abusive they would never be removed from an SAS flight.
This whole situation is sad for everyone involved, but it does seem to be a uniquely American problem of passengers being removed from airplanes. In some instances, removal seem like the appropriate measure, and other times it appears to be an overreach of authority by airlines. I certainly don’t think this one required police to arrest a woman for trespassing. Travel is stressful and I’m sure that working with the public is as well. There may be more information coming out, but so far it appears Frontier Airlines made a mistake. Stronger consumer protections would benefit American travelers, but for now maybe we all just need to hug our emotional support peacocks a little tighter and be more patient and positive with each other when we travel.
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