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Dad Tweets About Rude Gate Agent, Family Booted From Plane as Security Threat

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Ticket collectors at Southwest Airlines are our first line of defense.

GMA (“Family Booted Off Southwest Airlines After Dad Tweeted About ‘Rude’ Gate Agent“):

A Minneapolis man said he and his two children were kicked off a Southwest Airlines flight after the father tweeted about a “rude” gate agent who refused to give his kids priority boarding.

The incident happened on Sunday afternoon when Duff Watson was traveling with his two daughters, ages 9 and 6, from Denver to Minneapolis.

“I have been traveling with Southwest for a few years now, and I’m an A-list member,” Watson told ABC News today. “You can board the plane early.”

Watson said his two children have always been able to board the plane with him, but the gate agent he confronted Sunday afternoon wouldn’t budge, he said.

“I am not trying to game the system,” Watson said. “I’m not going to leave my kids alone to board. That doesn’t make sense.”

When the gate agent told Watson she can’t let his children board with him, Watson said he asked the agent: “Is this a new policy?”

Watson said the agent didn’t answer his question directly, but told him: “I am not going to change my mind.”

The gate agent allegedly asked Watson and his two children to step aside and wait until the rest of the A-list members board.

“We waited, which was fine,” Watson said. “I thought she was very rude and wanted to complain to customer service, so I asked her: ‘Can I get your last name?'”

“She told me: ‘You don’t need my last name for anything,'” Watson said. “I told her: ‘Real nice way to treat an A-list member.'”

“I tweeted something like, ‘Wow, rudest agent in Denver. Kimberly S, gate C39, not happy @SWA,'” he said.

Watson then boarded the plane along with his two children. However, they couldn’t get home just in time.

“I heard my name in the broadcast, asking me to get off the plane,” Watson said. “I didn’t know what was going on. I thought we left something or we were on the wrong flight.”

Watson was then approached by a flight attendant, who refused to tell him the reason for the broadcast, but said: “You need to exit the aircraft immediately.”

“So I walked by the people who we just walked by to get to our seats,” Watson said.

Watson then ran into the same gate agent he had tweeted about.

“She [the agent] said I was a safety threat,” Watson said. “I was shocked. There was no use of profanity, there were no threats made. How was I a safety threat?”

Watson said the agent threatened to call the cops if he didn’t delete the tweet that included her first name and initial of last name.

“I was taken aback by the situation. My two kids were crying,” Watson said. “She watched me as I deleted the tweet.”

The gate agent then allegedly summoned Watson and his two children to get back on the same flight.

“So we walked through the same passengers the third time,” Watson said.

“The point is not the order of boarding,” Watson said. “The point is how she responded.”

Southwest Airlines could not be immediately reached for comment by ABC News. But the airline issued a statement to a local CBS affiliate confirming that a customer was removed for a short time and continued on to Minneapolis. The incident is under review, Southwest noted.

Now, let’s stipulate that Watson seems to be overly impressed with his airline rewards status. The fact that he lives near an airport that has a Southwest terminal and flies a lot to destinations that likewise have Southwest terminals really should not play this large a role in his self image. Furthermore—and I write this as a father of two young daughters myself who flies mostly with them in tow—it would be odd, indeed, for Watson’s priority boarding status to carry over to his daughters. So, the gate agent was likely correct in telling him that he’d have to wait his turn for group boarding.

Regardless, the agent had no right whatsoever to demand that Watson and his daughters be thrown off the plane as a security threat on the basis of that tweet. She had no right whatsoever to demand that he delete said tweet as a condition of boarding.

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About James Joyner
James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway, an associate professor of security studies at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He has a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter.

Comments

  1. John Peabody says:

    Agree. Pissed-off agent using imaginary power. I once had a severe issue with a check-in agent. When I arrived at the gate, I inquired into the reporting procedures against agents. He gave me helpful information, and I thanked him. Funny, this gate agent was totally cooperative with my needs until I boarded!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 1

  2. JKB says:

    Whoa, Kimberly S. Way to make sure your personnel file ends up on the CEO’s desk. You went from, meh, rude gate agent tweet to media sensation.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 0

  3. qtip says:

    it would be odd, indeed, for Watson’s priority boarding status to carry over to his daughters

    On United, when I fly with my girlfriend, we both get to board according to my Premier status, not her General Member status. Not sure how it works on SouthWest though, they definitely do things differently over there!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  4. legion says:

    OK Doug and you other legal types, riddle me this:

    “She [the agent] said I was a safety threat,” Watson said. “I was shocked. There was no use of profanity, there were no threats made. How was I a safety threat?”

    That agent quite clearly lied to get this guy jacked up. He embarrassed the agent & the airline, but I don’t think there’s a chance in hell you could convince a jury any reasonable person could feel “threatened” by that exchange. Why is that agent not facing charges for filing a false report?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 14 Thumb down 2

  5. J-Dub says:

    I fly Southwest a lot and am an A-lister. People with children get to board between the A and B groups. I saw a woman freaking out over the same issue, wanting to board her B group daughter with her in the A group. Doesn’t work that way. There are rules, just follow them and and stop freaking out. Sounds like the boarding agent took it too far but they probably get fed up with people feeling entitled.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 14 Thumb down 0

  6. EddieInCA says:

    @John Peabody:
    @JKB:
    @legion:

    Wrong.
    Wrong.
    Wrong.

    I’m Executive Platinum on American Airlines and Diamond on Delta. Last five years I’ve averaged 164K miles per year in the air.

    You guys have no idea of what you speak. Kimberley, the agent, will not be reprimanded at all. Full stop.

    The airlines have a very strict “Don’t f**k with our people” policy. Doesn’t matter the reason, you don’t get pissy with gate agents, flight attendants, or baggage personel. If you do, they will mark your record. Every passenger, especially those, that fly regularly, have a dossier on them built by the airline(s). This passenger, this pompous asshole of a passenger, will have his record marked, and find himself at the bottom of every upgrade list, every standby list. He’ll wonder why his upgrades have stopped working. He’ll wonder why he seems to get such bad seats (except on southwest). He’ll wonder why all the little perks he used to get have stopped. They’ve stopped because in his file, is a big stamp in red letters that says “Asshole!”.

    So just don’t. No matter how pissed off you are at what’s happened, don’t lose your cool. Don’t tweet it. Don’t facebook it. Don’t. Just don’t.

    And, yeah, I’d have taken him off the plane for being an asshole. He’s teaching his daughters that being an asshole is acceptable. I’m glad the airline showed his daughters that there are repurcussions to Daddy being an asshole.

    Poorly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 21

  7. James Joyner says:

    @EddieInCA: How is he being an A-hole? He’s a regular, paying customer of the airline and thought he was treated shabbily. The employee in question refused to give her name so that he could complain through appropriate channels, so he took it to Twitter. And then she abused her power.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 17 Thumb down 1

  8. legion says:

    @EddieInCA:

    You guys have no idea of what you speak. Kimberley, the agent, will not be reprimanded at all. Full stop.

    The airlines have a very strict “Don’t f**k with our people” policy.

    You seem to think corporate policy somehow overrides federal law… you would be mistaken. It’s not entirely clear if TSA or law enforcement were involved in this, but this part:

    Watson said the agent threatened to call the cops if he didn’t delete the tweet that included her first name and initial of last name.

    would (I believe, IANAL) have been actionable if she’d done it, and might be just for the threat.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 1

  9. Just Me says:

    Whether he was right or wrong about taking his kids through the A list group the pulling him off the plane to delete the tweet was over the top.

    That is an abuse of power.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 13 Thumb down 1

  10. JKB says:

    @EddieInCA:

    And all that would have worked as a response to the tweet. But now, Kimberly created a PR problem for the airline. Sure, it’ll die down. But these things add up.

    From James’ comment on the matter, it seems Kimberly’s actions were appropriate, if perhaps handled with lack of deft. That is until she decided to do the retaliation route. And obviously, Kimberly S. was concerned about her accountability or why worry about having the tweet deleted?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 1

  11. Jim R says:

    @EddieInCA:

    And, yeah, I’d have taken him off the plane for being an asshole. He’s teaching his daughters that being an asshole is acceptable. I’m glad the airline showed his daughters that there are repurcussions to Daddy being an asshole.

    Such as being pushed around by bigger, corporate assholes with very thin skins?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 1

  12. Tyrell says:

    Now his name will probably wind up on the no fly list. Once it is on there, the Supreme Court won’t be able to clear it off.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 4

  13. The proper response by the passenger would have been “call the police.” At that point he should have requested that they complete a police report over her and the other members of the flight crew having detained him under false pretenses.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 13 Thumb down 1

  14. J-Dub says:

    If you like or need to fly, it is best to treat anyone that works at the airport like the Soup Nazi or else it’s “NO SOUP FOR YOU!”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  15. Yolo Contendere says:

    @legion:

    Why is that agent not facing charges for filing a false report?

    Because she didn’t file a false report?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  16. EddieInCA says:

    @James Joyner:

    Treated shabbily? By making him follow the rules? If he gets on the plane and does nothing, there is no issue. He was a total asshole, before and after the tweet.

    He escalated it. Stupidly. People should take a breath before the tweet. It’s a cancer.

    LIke i said, I travel more in a month than most people do in a lifetime. I’ve seen this play all too many times. 9 out of 10 times, the customer is an asshole with the gate agent of Flight Attendant, with a sense of entitlement driving the interaction. The guys (and gals) that REALLY travel alot rarely give gate agents problems because they know better.

    PR problem for Southwest? Not likely. People fly due to price. Period. They won’t lose one customer due to this, because most people don’t travel enough to give a crap. If the price is right, they’ll fly Southwest, regardless of what happened with this gate agent.

    The only thing that happened here is that this flyer now has a permanent mark on his flying dossier, which will haunt him for a long while.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 4

  17. Yolo Contendere says:

    @James Joyner: He was an A-hole when he put her name on Twitter. From that, I would extrapolate he probably was acting like one even when he was a regular, paying customer of the airline who thought he was treated shabbily. A-holes so often are regular, paying customers who think that.

    Thing is, customer service jobs suck enough as it is, and you have to deal with A-holes constantly. Rarely are you compensated enough to account for that. She probably didn’t want to give her last name, so that it wouldn’t end up online, and then her life ends up a living hell of harassment. Either by him, his friends, or random readers of his blog or Twitter account or whatever who are bored and figure what the hey, let’s harass the b*tch who didn’t know her place. And frankly, he didn’t need her last name. He knows his flight number, right? The airline is going to know who worked at that terminal at that time that day.

    Not to say her response wasn’t stupid. It apparently never occurred to her that he could Tweet the exact same thing again once he got to his destination. Her better bet was to just let it go.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 1

  18. EddieInCA says:

    @Rhymes With Right:

    Worst thing he could have done. He’d have been arrested for “interfering with a flight crew”. That’s a federal charge.

    49 U.S. Code § 46504 – Interference with flight crew members and attendants

    An individual on an aircraft in the special aircraft jurisdiction of the United States who, by assaulting or intimidating a flight crew member or flight attendant of the aircraft, interferes with the performance of the duties of the member or attendant or lessens the ability of the member or attendant to perform those duties, or attempts or conspires to do such an act, shall be fined under title 18, imprisoned for not more than 20 years, or both. However, if a dangerous weapon is used in assaulting or intimidating the member or attendant, the individual shall be imprisoned for any term of years or for life.

    You’d be surprised how many people get arrested on this charge daily.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 4

  19. Yolo Contendere says:

    @JKB:

    why worry about having the tweet deleted?

    Because in this day and age, if your name gets out there attached to a story that hits the wrong person(s) the right way, you run the risk of a great deal of harassment.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  20. Yolo Contendere says:

    @Rhymes With Right:

    At that point he should have requested that they complete a police report over her and the other members of the flight crew having detained him under false pretenses.

    Except they didn’t detain him. They requested he exit the plane, which he doesn’t own and has no independent right to be in, and he was free to leave the terminal at any time (as far as we can tell from the story).

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  21. James Joyner says:

    @Yolo Contendere: She would appear to be required by law to provide that information upon request.

    @Yolo Contendere: He had a contract with the carrier to provide service. They absolutely do not have the right to renege on that contract at the last minute on the grounds that he annoyed a gate agent.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0

  22. John H says:

    James,

    I can’t speak about the Southwest program or this particular incident, but my spouse and children have always had lounge access and have boarded with me as an AA Exec Platinum member. It’s part of the deal, and it’s not arrogant or self-important to expect vendors that have accepted your money in exchange for services to provide those services.

    However, this note (below) appears to be the SouthWest program policy, so this guy really didn’t have a claim. That still doesn’t make the security theater aspect of this any more palatable.

    “Please note when traveling this holiday season, reserved boarding privileges are only provided for A-List and A-List Preferred Members. If an A-List or A-List Preferred Member is traveling on a multiple-Passenger reservation, reserved boarding privileges will not be provided for non-A-List Members in the same reservation. This includes family and friends traveling on the same itinerary or traveling with the Tier status holder.”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  23. EddieInCA says:

    @James Joyner:

    With all due respect, you are 100% wrong on this. ANY airline can take you off of ANY airplane at ANY time for ANY reason they choose. It’s there on every ticket they sell. People tend to not look at the fine print, but it’s there, I assure you.

    http://www.shortlist.com/shortlists/eight-people-kicked-off-planes-for-ridiculous-reasons

    http://www.skyscanner.net/news/10-ways-get-kicked-plane

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 3

  24. Anderson says:

    Eddie is a good example of how on the internet, people fail to realize that they’re jerkwads.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 4

  25. EddieInCA says:

    @Anderson:

    Ironic.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 5

  26. MM2 says:

    This story doesn’t hold up, and when the full story comes out, we are going to find that a large piece of it is missing. There is no way that Denver gate agent Kimberly was able to find this tweet and complain about it to a higher up during the boarding process. He didn’t tweet at her or DM her, as he didn’t know her personal info. He tweeted about southwest and from the screenshots I’ve seen, he doesn;t even get their Twitter info correct. he Tweets to @SWA and @SouthwestAirlines, when Southwest seems to be their handle.

    There just isn’t the time available for her to start ignoring the boarding spiel, pull out a smartphone, find the tweet, call Airline security, get them to the gate, show them, the tweet, then get the guy off the plane.

    Maybe she was officious to him, sure. But there is something else going on that will come up after the clickbaity “can you believe what this dum-dum did to a man who just wanted to ride a plan with his kids?” dustcloud settles.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  27. EddieInCA says:

    @MM2:

    Bingo!

    As I’ve said before, I’ve seen this dance before too many times. I’m guessing that what happened is that he tweeted it in front of her, and told her about it, maybe even showing it to her. I’ve seen people do that before at Airline Attendants, at hotel desk clerks, rental car agents.

    “I feel aggrieved. I’ll show you. I’m going to tweet how bad service is here.” And they do it. On the spot. And then tell the person “I just tweeted what a bitch you were.” Or “I just left a bad review for you on yelp (or facebook),”

    Bottom line remains, that he, the father, traveling with two children, escalated a situation that was being handled properly by a gate agent. He was in the wrong. Everything after that is a direct result of that action.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 1

  28. beth says:

    @MM2: Yeah, there always seems to be more to the story than originally gets out. Whenever someone takes it to the level of involving the media, I’m always suspicious. Especially since the man involved seems to do some sort of marketing/pr for a living.

    I recently had a problem with a large home improvement chain regarding some appliances I bought. Long story short, they screwed up just about every single thing they could and some of their employees were not very nice about it. It never crossed my mind to take to Twitter or social media to try to embarrass or call out anyone – I contacted the corporate office, explained the problem calmly and nicely and all was settled to both our satisfaction, without the whole world getting involved.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  29. Grewgills says:

    @EddieInCA:
    How exactly would tweeting that a gate attendant was rude qualify under that statute?
    He was an ass and she was an ass. She abused her position to intimidate him.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  30. EddieInCA says:

    @Grewgills:

    It wouldn’t be too hard to get a tweet qualified as “intimidation.” I don’t agree with that, but can easily see it happening, especially given the nature of airline travel, and especially given his behavior at the gate.

    When in doubt, just don’t. It’s really simple. Just don’t. It’s not worth it.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 1

  31. Grewgills says:

    @EddieInCA:
    I try not to be an ass and generally that is reciprocated. If that tweet could be construed as intimidation then something is seriously wrong with our legal system.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  32. MM2 says:

    @beth: I have used Twitter once to call out a company, but it was after I had gone through multiple people to try to get my issue resolved and they had refused to do anything but continue to demand payment for a service that had never worked right. Otherwise I figure that trying to solve things politely by going through the proper channels. It seems like a lot of the people who run to the court of public opinion are doing so because they are hoping to grift, or are in the wrong and want the internet hate machine to blur things out.

    I think of the lesbian who claimed she didn’t get a tip, the backwards B woman, and the girl who was “kicked out of KFC” as examples. Something tells me that this dad is more like them than we are hearing right now.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  33. Yolo Contendere says:

    @James Joyner:

    @Yolo Contendere: She would appear to be required by law to provide that information upon request.

    She would appear to be no such thing. At least not by the link you gave. That may be a government site, but the info is on how to solve a problem like a grow-up. Did you give me the wrong link, or did you fail to read it?

    @Yolo Contendere: He had a contract with the carrier to provide service. They absolutely do not have the right to renege on that contract at the last minute on the grounds that he annoyed a gate agent.

    I don’t know how you define a contract, but a more accurate description would be he signed a TOS when he bought his tickets. With pretty much all the power going one way, as is usual with those. And they absolutely can renege at the last minute, on pretty much any grounds. If you read that link you gave me, you would also see he doesn’t have a ton of leverage in resolving it.

    Now, if what you meant was they shouldn’t have that right, or that it’s “just not right”, then I could agree with you (assuming the story is complete and factual on all counts). But to say they don’t have the right? Since 9/11, we’ve tossed people off planes because of their attire, much less because of a disagreement with an airline employee.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 1

  34. Boyd says:

    Regardless of the details, it wouldn’t surprise me that the gate attendant abused her authority (it wouldn’t surprise me, although I don’t know that to be a fact). We’ve all seen it time and time again. Maybe she’s a wannabe cop.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 3

  35. al-Ameda says:

    @John H:
    @EddieInCA:

    However, this note (below) appears to be the SouthWest program policy, so this guy really didn’t have a claim. That still doesn’t make the security theater aspect of this any more palatable.
    “Please note when traveling this holiday season, reserved boarding privileges are only provided for A-List and A-List Preferred Members. If an A-List or A-List Preferred Member is traveling on a multiple-Passenger reservation, reserved boarding privileges will not be provided for non-A-List Members in the same reservation. This includes family and friends traveling on the same itinerary or traveling with the Tier status holder.”

    There are more than enough “entitled” people who fly these days, and who often make the experience unpleasant for many of us who fly periodically throughout the year.

    I fly SWA a lot and most people are processed through without complication, but every so often there are guys like this who push it at the gate and it holds up the rest of us. I feel sorry for his children – dad was an embarrassment, he could have let it go, and dealt with it w/o creating more stress for all concerned. The gate agent could have done better too, but as I said, this guy created a big problem out of … very very little.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  36. legion says:

    @Yolo Contendere:

    Because she didn’t file a false report?

    Well, that’s what I’m not sure of. The article refers to “security”… was that TSA? If she saw that tweet and told TSA that there was a guy on the plane “making threats”, then that just might be a false report.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  37. legion says:

    @EddieInCA:

    With all due respect, you are 100% wrong on this. ANY airline can take you off of ANY airplane at ANY time for ANY reason they choose

    You’re missing (or perhaps dodging) the point. The agent didn’t just “throw him off the plane”, she threatened to have him arrested unless he deleted a tweet. That’s a whole different thing, and her protection from legal consequences of abusing her authority are a whole lot less clear-cut than you seem to believe.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 1

  38. Jeremy says:

    Yeah, she created a huge PR issue. I would not be surprised if the company decides to let her go after this. The over the top response does not give Southwest a good image, and in this day and age it spreads like wildfire. Now people will associate Southwest with this, and may try to get another airline to take them to where they need to go. Profit margins are thin enough already on air travel, they don’t need another complication.

    That said, it sounds like the dad was kind of a jerk. Maybe he was really confused about company policy on preferred boarding. But he shouldn’t have gotten all upset in public. He should have just cooled his jets, boarded when he could, Isn’t he embarrassed? I know I would be. But I guess that’s something wrong with modern American culture – we have no worries about losing face in public, about being embarrassed. We have incentives nowadays to act like spoiled brats and throw temper tantrums, rather than the other way around. To me, this is embarrassing and I worry about how it will develop in the future.

    And I say this as a guy who Doug Mataconis thinks is only 12.

    PS: I don’t get what the big deal is with letting kids board with their dad as part of the A List. They’re 6 and 9. They’re not individual adult rational agents, they are children. If other A List members are going to be pissed that they’re getting in “for free,” then they have some serious issues they need to work out. This whole thing is dumb and I think SW handled it poorly.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 2

  39. Yolo Contendere says:

    @legion: The article doesn’t reference “security” at all. James does, but then he seems to think a lowly ticket agent is required by law to supply her full name to anyone who demands it. Probably also thinks she should have supplies a SS# and a piece of mail with a current address.

    Also, if she made a report to security, false or otherwise, they wouldn’t have gone on the PA system to request he exit the plane, nor send a flight attendant to demand he leave. There would have been lots of lights and sirens, and he wouldn’t have been on his way minutes later.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 2

  40. J-Dub says:

    @Jeremy:

    PS: I don’t get what the big deal is with letting kids board with their dad as part of the A List. They’re 6 and 9. They’re not individual adult rational agents, they are children. If other A List members are going to be pissed that they’re getting in “for free,” then they have some serious issues they need to work out. This whole thing is dumb and I think SW handled it poorly.

    Well then it would be no big deal for the father to just board in the B group with his children, correct? I pay a lot of money to be at the front of the line so I can get a seat near the front of the plane and get off quickly to arrive at work on time and I’m pretty sure a 6 and 9 year old take up just as many seats as a 46 and 49 year old. I only get pissed when people feel entitled to break the rules when everyone else is following them without issue.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0