Start here. What happened.

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).
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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.

8 comments

  1. Good sticking up for yourself. I’ve had a lot of good luck with flight attendants, so these idiots need to be identified, confronted and reprimanded. Back when they handed out free peanuts, their behavior might have been tolerable. (Kidding, of course…)

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I had a bad experience last week with a female american airline flight attendant on my flight from Charlotte to DC. This was my second bad experience with this same flight attendant. She was talking bad about customers boarding the plane to another flight attendant. Then when the doors closed – I was sitting in first class watching my ipad and she stated I must stow my ipad pro because it was considered a laptop. She did this before to me about five months back. When I gently stated she is the only flight attendant to ever tell me to stow my ipad she became aggressive and belittling. Stating the other flight attendants must be lazy and not doing their job and that this was a FAA rule. I fly at least once a month on four separate flights and only have had an issue with this one flight attendant. I sent a complaint to AA but have yet to hear a response.

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  3. While I’ve generally had “normal” airlines service in the past, over the last couple of years things have gotten increasingly “whiny” by airline staff, especially attendants. I have ZERO against anyone’s personal life preferences but I have noticed the trouble usually has started with the attendants, not the passengers.

    Frankly I think a lot of the trouble is attendants are bringing their personal emotional baggage to work and taking it out on passengers…very unprofessional, rude and provides a nasty image of the airline’s stated goals of passenger satisfaction. People ARE afraid to speak out since 911 and new TSA rules, but, it’s long overdue to turn this around on the real problem, not the made up scapegoat. Blessings of Peace,

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  4. I had a similar experience with a power crazed flight attendant on Alaska Airlines and will NEVER fly hem again. Some of these flight attendants are truly insane. Very scary to think you are under their control!

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  5. I recently booked a flight with AA. to fly from Pittsburgh to Boston on Wed. Nov 16. As the flight was almost totally full I was not happy with my seat assignment but when you wait to last minute you take what you can get. My flight (#4118) was scheduled to leave at 8:35 A and arrive at 10:15 A. On Tuesday Nov 15 at 4 PM I got an urgent message from AA stating my flight was cancelled and I was re booked. Now leaving at 8:45 thru NC 2 hr. lay over and now arriving afternoon sometime. Well long story short this would put me in Boston too late, no need to even go. I understand that companies, even good companies may have a knuckle head or two working for them but in my case this was a company decision to cancel a flight at the last minute. Why they cancelled I don’know. My feelings are the airlines may cancel a flight to consolidate two flights into one. Doesn’t matter how it may affect their passengers.

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  6. Understand that you were not flying American Airlines, you were flying PSA. AA & other maJor US airlines subcontract out their flying to regional airlines. Same for David W in the comments, he was not flying AA.

    It is an FAA regulation that all seatbelts be fastened, seatbacks must be upright and all tray tables, footrests, cabin baggage, and service items must be stowed during taxi, takeoff, & landing. That means anytime the aircraft is not parked at the gate with the engines off. So no grumbling about this like the other pax did. The reason is to facilitate emergency evacuation when necessary.

    BTW folks, remember the only chance you have to evac is while you are on the ground, so please keep your shoes on until after takeoff and don’t wear spiky heels while traveling. Also note which exits are NOT used/opened during a water evac as well as noting your nearest 2 exits, and don’t open an exit when there is fire or fuel spilled on the other side.

    It is an FAA regulation that all signs, placards, & crew member instructions must be followed. Unfortunately the FAA rules don’t say anything about requiring the crew to give their instructions in a friendly or professional manner. That’s up to each airline to enforce with their own personnel.

    Certainly the crew acted unprofessionally in this instance…fabricating the facts is unacceptable.

    To the comment about crew lately bringing their personal emotional baggage to work, unfortunately crew members are human and it’s a demanding job for little pay, which works out to be about US $17k-$20k annually to start. Depending on the company, Flight attendents only make their flight pay (e.g. US $15-17/hr to start) starting either when brakes are released or when the wheels leave the ground, until back on the ground or parked again. (Each company has different work rules.) Otherwise ground pay is about US $1/ hour per diem and the airline no longer provides crew meals…must pack your own sandwich or cross fingers you have time to buy something in the airport…not cheap!

    So at the end of a long day, for little money, when perhaps there were troublesome pax on the previous flight (e.g. “I’m sure my bag will fit, let me try!!!!”), it is possible that a very human flight attendent will lose it and act unprofessionally. They get spent too.

    You were very wise to refuse alcohol, that would have certainly gone into a report and the airline would have used it against you. It would have gotten lost in the details about when the supposed belligerence had happened, before or after the drink. And if you’re not in danger of dehydration by refusing any beverage can be better for your side of the story so there is no confusion about whether that was a hard or soft drink. Don’t get dehydrated though, that’s not healthy…usually there can be no question about plain water.

    You were also wise to maintain your cool & always speak calmly and politely to all crew & pax. Stick to the facts.

    Next time take out your earphones so you can be aware of what is being said around you. And try to get the name & contact info of nearby pax who support your story.

    Why would the crew have acted that way, besides being very stressed out humans & truly believing, albeit incorrectly, that you were a threat? Well, if it was at the end of a long day with delays, perhaps the crew was aproaching the legal end of their duty day. If they had had to return to the gate and remove you from the flight then they would have has to remove your checked baggage too. That would have taken time, and perhaps then pushed them over the legal duty limit and then the airline would have had to find a replacement crew from reserves or cancel the flight. Why would a crew do that? Maybe they are spent and just want to go home, or maybe their airline is having bad labor/management relations and the crew’s union has told them to be ineffcient. I remember a while back when AA mainline was having negotiation problems with the pilot’s union and so pilots started doing everything “by the book” (e.g. writing up a maintainance report for a broken coffemaker, which is not a required flight item, prior to pushback & thus delaying departure, instead of overlooking the item and then writing it up midflight when things aren”t busy) which although it was the mandated proceedure to follow, caused a lot of delays and eventually better negotiation between the pilots and management.

    By the way, pilots don’t make much more money than the flight attendents when they start. PSA the airline you flew recently increased its starting pilot pay to USD $35,100 annually. Prior to that it was under USD $20K

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  7. Please edit my post above to read:

    “BTW folks, remember the only chance you have to evac is while you are on the ground, so please keep your shoes on until after takeoff and put your shoes back on upon initial descent prior to landing. Also don’t wear spiky heels while traveling.”

    I see too many people without their shoes while the plane is still on the ground. If they ever had to evac in an emergency, the ground would be painful to their bare feet as they were quickly walking away from the damaged aircraft.

    Thanks.

    Like

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