A New Reason To Fear Flying // What You Need To Know About Airline Travel Today

By Leah B. Schorr

First it was the doctor flying back to the hospital to see his patients. Then it was the family of five returning from a family simchah in Florida. Now it’s the “professor” with a severe allergy to dogs. What all these people have in common is that they were forcefully, and some would say violently, removed from their airplane seats and thrown off the plane.

Last week, Southwest Flight 1525 was preparing to leave Baltimore for Los Angeles when a woman passenger noticed two dogs boarding the aircraft. She alerted a flight attendant and explained that she was “deathly allergic” to dogs and asked that they be removed from the cabin. The crew calmly explained that her request was not feasible, especially since one of the dogs was an emotional support animal. Unimpressed, the passenger asked that an injection for her allergy be administered. The crew, in accordance with Southwest’s policy, asked for a medical certificate confirming her condition before any medication could be provided. The passenger did not offer any such documentation. The crew then told the woman that she would have to deplane. As a spokesperson for the airline explained, “A customer may be denied boarding if he reports a life-threatening allergic reaction and cannot travel safely with an animal onboard.” The passenger refused to comply.

After repeated attempts to have her voluntarily leave the aircraft, Maryland Transportation Authority Police were called to intervene. To the horror of the other passengers, some of whom filmed the ensuing struggle, the woman was forcibly lifted out of her seat and instructed to walk down the aisle. She continued to resist, accusing the officers of ripping her clothing, and claimed to be a professor as she grabbed onto the seatbacks while shouting “Don’t touch me!” and “I’ll walk off!” although the video taken by another passenger shows that she needed to be pushed and pulled by the officers until she was finally removed. The passenger was charged with disorderly conduct, failure to obey a reasonable and lawful order, disturbing the peace, obstructing and hindering a police officer and resisting arrest. Nonetheless, Southwest issued an apology, regretting the entire incident. Other passengers said that the woman seemed a bit “odd.” In any event, it wasn’t something that anyone would want to experience.

To many, this was all too reminiscent of the case of 69-year-old Dr. David Dao, who was heading back to Chicago on a United Airlines flight last April 9. The plane was full and everyone was already settled in when the airline realized, at the last minute, that it needed four seats for company employees who had to get to Chicago. The airline asked for volunteers and offered $400, and then $800, to passengers to give up their seats. When no one accepted, four passengers were selected for removal. Three agreed, but Dr. Dao remained steadfast. “I won’t go,” he was recorded as saying. “I’m a physician, and I have to work at 8:00 a.m.” Chicago Aviation Security officers were called and Dr. Dao was literally dragged down the aisle while bleeding from the mouth, after which he was forcibly ejected from the plane. A video of his harrowing experience went viral and caused a huge headache for United.

At first United CEO Oscar Munoz defended the crew’s actions as “following established procedure” and called the passenger “disruptive and belligerent,” but it was a public relations disaster. In fact, he had to speak out again later, saying that he was “ashamed” and that “this can never, will never happen again on a United Airlines flight…that’s my promise.” He also apologized to Dr. Dao, his family, the passengers on that flight, and all of United’s customers and employees. “We are not going to put a law enforcement official onto a plane…to remove a booked, paid, seated passenger; we can’t do that.”

But it’s more than not only refusing to give up your seat that can get you booted. This past May, a Delta passenger boarding a LaGuardia-bound flight from Tampa became irate when he discovered that there was no room in the overhead bin for his luggage and began tossing out items. When the crew warned him that he was creating a disturbance, he ignored their instructions to stop, so they reported his actions to the pilot and the police were summoned. The officers informed him that he was being removed and would be rebooked on another flight. They then asked him to stand up and get off the plane, but he claimed that he hadn’t done anything wrong and remained seated. They then asked him if he preferred that they use force, at which point they grabbed him in a chokehold and removed him—to the applause of the other passengers. Delta commended the crew for their professionalism in ensuring its customers’ safety and comfort.

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