Frequent flyers are all-too familiar with the Post 9/11 Power Trip. With security as a constant focus, the slightest verbal misstep or misunderstanding can get a passenger kicked off a plane.
A passenger on a Southwest Airlines flight from Sacramento to Los Angeles apparently just re-learned that lesson. After multiple delays he made joked about being comped a vodka, and that got him booted from the aircraft and confronted by law enforcement.
The man was on board Southwest Airlines flight WN478 from Sacramento to Los Angeles last Wednesday and the flight was in the midst of a three and a half hour delay. First a maintenance light forced the aircraft to return to the gate, and later the airline determined they needed to refuel the aircraft.
Flight attendants passed out water to passengers. He “said something [like], ‘They should be passing out vodka because we’ve been waiting so long.'” And that led to an even further delay.
[T]he flight attendant, who he described as young, did not take kindly to that comment. “She came by and was like, ‘I don’t think that and I didn’t like your joke,’” he explained. “Then my wife tried to butt-in there and say, ‘Look it, we’ve been on this plane for hours.’ And she says, ‘Well, so have I, so get used to it.’”
Uzelac and the other passengers were shocked by the flight attendant’s reaction. “Then all of a sudden, I see her on the telephone up in front,” he said. That’s when the plane turned back to the gate again and several Sacramento County sheriff’s deputies came on board to ask the man next to Uzelac to leave.
“And people started yelling then. In fact, people stood up. I stood up. People were saying this man didn’t do anything,” Uzelac said.
The passenger was not charged with any crime. According to Southwest,
We regret any less-than-positive experience a customer has onboard our aircraft. We welcome over 100 million customers each year, and we aim to maintain the comfort of all while delivering Southwest hospitality.
It’s common to see a passenger concerned as their bag gets moved in the overhead bin, and a flight attendant ask “Are we going to have a problem?” the implied threat being the passenger will be removed from the plane for questioning a flight attendant.
- There’s a semi-legitimate though far-fetched concern that a passenger could create a disturbance as a diversion. But the terrorist activity they’re covering for isn’t likely to take place on the ground…
- However the post-9/11 culture is that everything is a security threat, and customer service gets outsourced to law enforcement. That’s how the United Express incident with Dr. David Dao being dragged off a plane and bloodied happened.
Customer complaints — or merely communication gaps that happen all the time between people who don’t know each other, and even those who do — need to be de-escalated not oursourced to law enforcement. And airlines haven’t come close to doing enough on that front since United rolled out its plan on this front two years ago.