This is what I posted to my Facebook account the morning after I flew on American Airlines flight 5583 from DCA to LAN (aka Reagan National to Lansing MI).
So yesterday I hinted at an unbelievable flight home from DC. Here’s what happened.
So last night, I had an epically terrible flight home to Lansing from Reagan National Airport on American Airlines. Like, unbelievably, offensively bad. Buckle up, because this is long. I’ll also preempt all of your questions with the only answer I have: “I have no idea.”
The flight was scheduled to depart just before 5 p.m. Earlier in the day, our admin (who schedules travel) had gotten an alert that the flight was delayed slightly, so I knew we were slightly delayed for departure. By the time we arrived at the airport just after 3 p.m., we saw on the screen that the flight was not going to board until 7 p.m.
Normally, such a delay is irritating. Honestly, though, I have had such a terrible week (travel for work/death in the family/helping my mom navigate from several states away while she unexpectedly stayed with my children all week), I literally had no response in me. I was spent, physically and emotionally. So when we boarded the plane around 7, I sat down in my window seat near the rear of the plane, fired off a text to my husband and my mom that I was finally on the plane and turned on my This American Life podcast.
About a half-hour later, we are told that the plane has to go back to the hangar for mechanical issues. People are sighing, shaking their heads, throwing up their hands, and sending texts to family that we were going to be further delayed. I hear the Male Flight Attendant (now known as MFA, since he was not wearing a name tag and his ID was turned toward him so I couldn’t see his name) tell the woman sitting in the row behind me, “Do you want to ride in a broken plane? Do you want to ride in a broken plane? I don’t. I’m not riding in a broken plane.” She asked, “What do you mean this plane is broken?” What’s going on?”
At some point, the Female Flight Attendant, who was later told was named Robin, comes to the back of the plane to mess with the bathroom light. She is admonishing people to move their seats back to upright, to stow their tray tables, and I hear people ask, “Why? We’re not moving.” Her replies were curt, “Just do it. DO IT. It’s a safety issue. It’s a safety issue.” She returns to the front of the plane and announces over the loudspeaker that it’s a broken bathroom light, and that we are fixing it now because none of us have connecting flights and if we don’t do it now, then it will delay them tomorrow. She informs everyone on the plane that they have had a very long day and that we need to comply or we will not take off.
People in my area are looking at each other, texting family members about delays, and otherwise are tolerating the delays. My seatmate was talking with the woman behind him and the flight attendant (sitting behind her), and said “I fly American all the time, and it has never once been on time. Never once.” MFA replies, “There’s nothing we can do about that. That’s not our fault. There’s nothing we can do.” The woman in the row behind me made a comment about a particularly bad flight, and I replied, flatly “That does seem a bit absurd.” The man in the row behind me said something innocuous and then the MFA speaks.
The MFA looks at me and says very loudly, “Do you have a PROBLEM ma’am? Do you have a PROBLEM? Are you OKAY, ma’am? Do you need assistance? Are you OKAY, do you NEED something? Do you have a PROBLEM?” I wasn’t even 100% sure he was talking to me because his aggressive tone seemed surprising, given my simple statement. I looked at him, and said “I’m more than okay. I’m quite fine.” He replied, “I will NOT have a belligerent passenger on this flight. I will NOT have you acting this way. I will NOT.”
Confused, I slowly turned back around to my seat and resumed listening to my podcast, and wondering what just happened. I turn back to see he is on the flight phone. I later heard from the woman seated behind me–in front of him—that he was telling the person on the other end of his phone that I was screaming profanity, physically threatening him and other passengers, and I was behaving erratically. I was sitting in my seat listening to the podcast, so I did not hear what he said.
Robin, the female flight attendant, comes to the back of the plane and points at me. I remove my headphones, and look at her. She proceeds to inform me that MFA has told her, and the captain, that I am a belligerent passenger, that I am menacing and threatening other passengers, and yelling profanities. I am incredulous, and keep saying “That is absurd. I have done no such thing. I don’t know what is going on. I am baffled.” Other passengers near me attempt to confirm my version of events, and she silences them. “The captain wants you removed from the plane,” she tells me. “We will remove you from the plane, you will fly standby, I have no idea when you will go home. They want you removed from the plane for your belligerent behavior.” She looks at the people sitting near me. “Was she using profanity?” “What’s profanity?” asks one passenger. “Swearing,” I replied. “No!” She said. “She said nothing!” Others chime in, “She has done nothing! She didn’t even say anything!”
Robin then explains that she has some discretion, and if can assure her that I can keep myself under control, she will let me stay on the plane. “I am totally baffled,” I keep saying. She storms off to the front of the plane, and I sit back in my seat. People around me keep whispering to me, “What is going on? I have never seen anything like this? This is UNBELIEVABLE. I am going to file a complaint. This is unacceptable.”
Eventually, the plane returns to the runway, and we take off. Though I was upset and confused, I made a serious effort to not say anything: I am exhausted and want to go home. I sat quietly through the flight, speaking only when the MFA came through with beverage cart. MFA spends most of the flight in the galley with Robin at the front of the plane.
Near the end of the flight, they both return to the back of the plane. Robin is holding some sort of paperwork, and MFA is standing over her shoulder. I remove my headphones, and she says to me “I do not believe one word of your story. I believe him. I trust him. If he says you were acting belligerent, swearing, and being aggressive, I believe him.” I said, calmly, “Ask any of these people. Ask anyone, I said nothing.”
Robin replies, “They are all your friends! They are of course going to say you did nothing! They’re your friends!” I sigh, and calmly reply “They are not. I do not know these people. You can look it up: Our tickets aren’t linked in any way.” MFA is smirking and rolling his eyes. “Are you telling me that you weren’t swearing?” I replied that I was not. “He (MFA) says you said something about his laptop!,” gesturing to a man across the aisle and a row behind me. “What laptop?” I replied. MFA rolls his eyes. Other passengers pipe in, repeatedly saying “She didn’t say anything! She didn’t do anything!” The more aggressively she treated me and other passengers, the more calmly I asserted that I had done nothing. One man comments loudly, “She is the only one behaving professionally!”
She then informs me “We know who you are. We are filing an OPS report. We know who you are. We have your name.” I replied, “Of course you do,” meaning, of course they have a flight manifest with my name on it.
She then proceeds to inform me that I will be named on an “OPS report,” and that I will be on a “list” of belligerent passengers, so that any time in the future if I fly, it will be noted that I have been a problem passenger in the past. At this point, people near me start speaking up. My seatmate was particularly vocal, and Robin looks at him, and says “Do you want to be on the OPS report?” I ask him to stay silent, and that he does not need to become embroiled in this. She continues to explain that she is filing an OPS report, that I she does not believe anything that I am saying. Other passengers continue to try to support my version of events, and she tells me that she is still going to file the report but that she is willing to leave my name off of it, that it was a misunderstanding. MFA rolls his eyes. My seatmate keeps speaking up, and Robin then chastises him for being upset in the way he is trying to stand up for me. She says something about how she doesn’t like injustice, but the way he is behaving is a problem and that she believes her colleague, MFA. I am further confused.
I kept saying “I understand and appreciate that you are choosing to believe your colleague, but all I can say is that I have done nothing wrong. I appreciate you giving me some benefit of the doubt, but all I can say is that I have done nothing. I was not swearing. I never got out of my seat. I have no idea what is going on.” When others try to speak up in my defense, she silences them and threatens to include them on this “OPS report.”
Finally, she asks “Can we get you a drink?”
I reply, “Umm…..no,” simultaneously thinking wondering why she would offer a “belligerent person” alcohol and also figuring she hoped I would accept is so she could write that I had been drinking in her “report.”
She walks back to the front of the plane, with MFA in tow. Other passengers speak to me that they are outraged by this, they have never seen anything like it. It was utterly unbelievable, the way I was deeply calm while they seemed insistent on escalating the “situation.” When I finally disembarked from the plane, I said to her “I appreciate you using your discretion to let me complete my flight.” She said “welcome home.” The pilot was standing next to her, and I extended my hand and said “Thank you for the flight. I am the allegedly belligerent passenger, so I thought you might like to know who I am and what I look like.” He looked confused, as though he had no idea what I was talking about.
As we leave, people are stopping me to say they were so shocked by what happened to me, that they were stunned, that they were going to call American Airlines to make a complaint. I hope they did, frankly.
So clearly, I have SO many questions. And so much commentary. I am confident in my memory of WHAT happened, but am confused as to why. I am awaiting a response from American Airlines—contacted via Twitter, they said they are going to “dive into this deeper and do some reviewing of our own.” I have no idea what kind of “report” was filed, what kind of “list” I am now on, or what will happen next.
Even though this situation completely defies logic—I literally have no idea what provoked this man to target me for harassment and intimidation (in fact, my seatmate said, “I actually was swearing and speaking loudly, and throwing up my hands in frustration. Maybe he didn’t go after me because I’m a man?”), I can’t help but try to make sense of it.
So yeah. I am still outraged. I still have no idea what happened, or what alternate reality MFA was living in, or why he targeted me. I do not know why, after everything had calmed down, MFA and Robin decide to re-escalate the conflict by confronting me again. I have no idea what I am going to next, but I am not letting this go.
There were some funny moments I remember:
When the Pakistani man seated behind me said, “I’m used to being targeted in planes, but I am surprised they’re going after you.” I said, “Well I guess it’s a good they finally picked a white person to pick on!”
When I joked that when people think of belligerent passengers on an airplane, “they automatically think of a middle-aged white woman wearing a slouchy sweater and sensible shoes on a flight home from a meeting at NIH in Bethesda!”
I am still so, so angry. Good for me, but unfortunately for them, the angrier I am, the calmer I behave. And my calm reaction and refusal to engage in their intimidation and threats only seemed to outrage MFA and Robin further. The more measured my response, the more threatening and angry (and eye rolling and smirking) they became.
Anyone who knows me knows I have a funny side commentary that I could offer. But given that this is an issue I will press until it is addressed further, I’ll keep my witty quips to myself and limit myself to the facts.