A New York state woman was traveling to Alaska on United with her ski club back in March. The group had already flown two legs of the trip – from NYC to Houston, then Houston to Seattle – before it boarded the third plane to take them from Seattle to Anchorage.
Seeing empty seats on the plane, the passenger went to sat down in a seat that was not her assigned spot.
“I saw many empty rows of seats and I went to sit in one of them,” the passenger tells CBSNews. She says a flight attendant noticed and immediately told her she could not sit there because there were still people expected to board the flight.
The passenger went to her assigned seat, waited until everyone had boarded the plane. She spotted an empty seat in a row with only one other passenger, so she made the switch.
Thing is, that seat was in an exit row, for which United (and other airlines) charge extra for the added legroom.
The flight attendant told her, “You need to pay $109 if you sit here. Give me your credit card.”
Unwilling to pay that upcharge, the passenger says she returned to she seat she’d booked.
Cartoonist: Adey Bryant
She says that’s when one of the flight attendants went to the cockpit. Shortly thereafter, two individuals visited the woman’s seat and asked her to exit the plane, telling her that alternate plans would be made for her flight to Anchorage.
She refused, saying she did not want to be separated from her group and pointing out that she had returned to her original seat as requested.
Refusing to leave the plane, she was taken off by force, reportedly grabbing at seats while being pulled by police officers.
She was charged with trespassing and resisting arrest. She waited in jail for three days before she was able to post bond.
The airlines said federal law requires pre-flight briefing for anyone seated in emergency rows, and balance and weight safety regulations prevent onboard seat changes, the station reported.
FlyersRights requested a senior flight attendant help us clear up this bizarre story:
I have been unable to ascertain the flight number involved to see if this was a flight crew from Continental or United. In watching a video of the passenger being arrested and physical dragged off the flight, I noted it looks like a narrow body 737 with television monitors in the seat backs.
I am going to assume that this was a flight flown and staffed by Continental FAs. Also, because I have never heard of this level of passenger abuse and disrespect by legacy United FAs.
It is my belief that CAL FAs are not trained to “use your resources” and other communication skills training the same way legacy UA FAs are. Infrequently in my flying career, a passenger will see open seats in economy plus and self-upgrade themselves to the exit row(s) or to another row in economy plus.
In extenuating circumstance (rare) I have “upgraded” passengers to the exit rows or moved them closer forward in economy plus….but have always explained the situation to the person who paid for their seat in an effort to get then approval before I make the move.
Passengers who self-upgrade “because there is nobody sitting there” are, many times, reported to FAs by other passengers who know the rules.
In those rare cases where a passenger’s voice gets loud and they begin to displace negative emotion toward me (“they let me move my seat on my last flight!”) I will raise my voice just enough to gather the attention of other passengers (witnesses!) in economy plus (and minus).
Once I know I have witnesses, I will again explain to the passenger the rule about upgrading to economy plus. If the self-upgrader continued to insist he/she isn’t going to move, I will add a little drama (drawing in more passenger witnesses) and with a sweeping motion of my arms will say loud enough for people in 1-2 rows to hear: “All these folks in economy plus have all paid extra money or air miles to sit here. I just do not have the authority to upgrade you for free.”
In 100% of the cases this 3rd level engagement with a self-upgrader has been successful in getting them to return to their seat in embarrassment.
Never in a million years would I bully or harass a misbehaving passenger like the FAs did on what I strongly suspect was a Continental crewed flight.
The description of how the passenger was treated by the FAs and captain indicates to me that they were not trained to handle problems onboard the same way legacy United FAs were.
I dare say that 99.9% of these negative passenger altercations with crew were not legacy United FAs.