Passenger Kicked Off Flight Because They Cut Off Crew Member At Revolving Door
A Dallas man was kicked off a flight home from New York City because he had unknowingly cut off a flight crew member while going through a revolving door. This seems like a case of discretion gone way too far.
A lawyer boarding a flight at New York’s LaGuardia Airport was kicked off the flight apparently because he ticked off a member of the flight crew while going through a revolving door:
A prominent Texas lawyer was not allowed to board a Virgin America flight home from New York on Monday because of an encounter with a crew member at La Guardia Airport in Queens, he and the airline said.
The lawyer, Robert B. Abtahi, the vice chairman of the Dallas Plan Commission, the official body that makes planning and zoning recommendations to the City Council, said he was trying to board Virgin America Flight 885 to Dallas before its scheduled departure at 3:50 p.m., when he was told that he would not be allowed onto the plane.
Mr. Abtahi, who goes by “Bobby,” said the reason he was given was that the captain and crew did not feel comfortable with him on the flight. When he pressed for specifics, a gate agent told him that he had cut off a crew member in a revolving door while arriving at the airport, he said. He was forced to cancel the ticket and rebook on another airline.
Virgin America said in a statement sent by email that airline officials had reviewed the incident and believed it was “the result of a misunderstanding.” David Arnold, a spokesman, said the airline was reaching out to apologize to Mr. Abtahi for his experience, and added that it was his understanding that it had unfolded as Mr. Abtahi described.
“As an airline that prides itself on our award-winning guest service, we take issues like this very seriously,” he said. “We are sorry Mr. Abtahi had this experience today, as it was not representative of the guest service for which we are known.”
The airline offered Mr. Abtahi reimbursement for the cost of the flight as well as two free flights in the future. Mr. Abtahi said he accepted the apology, but directed the airline to give the free flights to the Human Rights Initiative of North Texas, a Dallas charity that helps refugees fleeing abuse.
Mr. Abtahi said he wanted the airline to tighten policies giving flight crew members broad discretion to decide whether to allow a passenger on board. “We have all these regulations around flying and safety, and that seems the most subjective one,” he said. “I have PreCheck and Global Entry and I’m not acting crazy; I haven’t been drinking. I’m just standing.”
Mr. Abtahi said that the incident, reported online on Monday evening by The Dallas Morning News, happened in one of the airport’s revolving doors when a woman got behind him in the same stall. In response to a reporter’s inquiry, he wrote on Twitter that they “both fumbled to get in,” and he “didn’t know she was crew.”
Mr. Abtahi said he did not think anything of the encounter until a gate agent told him he had cut someone off. He offered to apologize, he said, but was still kept off the plane. He was allowed to cancel the ticket without paying a penalty fee and booked an American Airlines flight leaving around the same time.
Long before September 11th, members of a plane flight crew have had wide discretion when it comes to either refusing to fly at all, or refusing to allow a certain passenger on board of they believed it would interfere with the operation of the aircraft. In the past, when stories of the use of such power have come to light it’s typically involved passengers who were becoming unruly due to arguments over seat space with other passengers or members of the crew or, quite often, passengers who were drunk and misbehaving. The policy does make sense to the extent that a passenger in the cabin who becomes a serious problem could end up diverting the attention of the flight crew to the extent that they are prevented from doing their jobs, and potentially prevented from taking the actions they need to take in the event of an emergency. In the years before cockpit doors were hardened in the wake of the September 11th attacks, such persons were arguably also a threat to breach the integrity of the flight deck itself and pose a threat to the safe operation of the aircraft. To that extent, I suppose, these policies are arguably necessary and the discretion of the flight crew is something that should generally be accepted. It’s also policies like this that allow the crew to divert a plane in flight if necessary if a passenger becomes so unruly in flight that they are posing a danger to passengers and crew while the plane is operating.
Notwithstanding these arguments, though, it seems obvious that there are situations where this absolute discretion that flight crews are typically given in these situations can be abused. The worst thing that Abtahi seems to have done here is inadvertently cut off a member of the crew while going through a revolving door. Abathi says that he didn’t even realize anything wrong or that the other person was a crew member on any flight, least of all the one he intended to board. The crew member — and it’s not specified if the person involved was the pilot, co-pilot, or a stewardess/steward — apparently was offended enough to invoke this extraordinary authority to demand that Atahbi be kept off the flight. This is also a good example of how this power can be arbitrarily abused. More recently, we’ve seen the same power used to keep people with Muslim names off of flights based on nothing more than fears allegedly expressed by other passengers. Abtahi, who is Iranian-American, doesn’t make the allegation that either his name or his appearance had anything to do with what happened, but one does have to wonder if the facts of the pre-flight encounter at the revolving door would have led the crew member to take the same action if Robert Abtahi had been a guy from Kansas named Dave Smith.
As for Abtahi, he mentioned the incident on Twitter, which resulted in an amusing response from American Airlines, but ultimately the matter seems to have been resolved to Abtahi’s satisfaction:
— Bobby Abtahi (@BobbyAbtahi) November 30, 2015
I got a nice sincere apology from @VirginAmerica. You are now permitted to calm down Internet.
— Bobby Abtahi (@BobbyAbtahi) December 1, 2015
So all’s well that end’s well, I suppose. Nonetheless one has to wonder if discretion that goes so far as to allow a flight crew member to turn an inadvertent slight at a revolving door to keep someone from making their flight is discretion that has gone just a bit too far.
Photo via ABC News