You don’t have to look too hard to find stories about airplane passengers being removed from airplanes—seriously, just the stories just fall from the sky (no pun intended) like acid rain—but rarely are they so confusing and absurd as this one.
27-year-old Tina Fough was on her way back to Oregon after a hard-earned vacation with friends in Tucson; as a fan of buying the least expensive seats possible, she ended up on American. It was her first time flying on the airline and the boarding process was totally uneventful...until it wasn’t. Fought tells the Washington Post:
As she waited in the aisle to get to her seat, Fough chatted casually with another passenger in front of her. Then a flight attendant started yelling.
“Stay right there,” he shouted, in Fough’s account. “I asked you three times.”
Bewildered, Fough asked, “What’s going on?”
“You can get off this flight,” the attendant said. “I’ll kick you off of this plane right now.”
Fough recounted that while the attendant was wearing a button-up shirt with the trademark winged pin of flight crews, he had on neither a name tag nor the uniform that the other attendants were wearing.
After refusing to give Fough his name, she said, he dismissed her with a curt, “Go.”
That’s terribly unpleasant, enough so that when Fough got to her seat, she began to cry. This apparently made things worse because airplanes? There’s no crying in airplanes! (But if you’ve ever been stuck on the tarmac at LaGuardia for close to three hours with a full bladder, you know that this is patently false.) The Cranky Flight Attendant then followed Fough to her seat and began rummaging through the overhead compartments, looking for her bag and telling her that she was going to be kicked off the plane.
At this point, passenger Bill Byrne started recording the incident; a second attendant soon appeared and told Fough that she needed to leave the aircraft. In the video (above) you can hear Fough crying—“Why are you being so mean to me?”—as passengers start booing the flight crew.
So what the hell happened here? According to Fough, the flight attendant said he had repeatedly asked her to make space in the aisle for someone trying to get through, but Fough says that she was unable to do so as there were several other passengers in front of her. Another passenger, who complained to the pilot after the flight, was told by the pilot that Fough called a flight attendant a derogatory term. Fough, however, claims that this is a total lie; she says she never even interacted with the attendant in question.
But here’s an interesting detail: As Fough—who, let’s remember, bought a relatively inexpensive ticket—was being asked to leave the plane, another passenger was waiting right there to take her seat. She claims he sat down “almost immediately” after she got up. Huh. For as often as flights are overbooked, it’s hard to believe that an airline and flight crew would be so diabolical as to boot someone from the cheap seats in order to allow another passenger—perhaps a high-status frequent flier or someone who paid more for their ticket?—to be seated. And yet...well, maybe they would? After all, the frequent tickets purchased by small number of road warriors (as compared to regular passengers) account for a large portion of airline revenue.
Nevertheless, this ulterior motive feels a little too evil for me to believe (and I fly United, so I have a very deep understanding of commercial airline evil), though it’s also hard to chalk up such a dramatic incident to a simple misunderstanding.
American Airlines, for their part, has apologized to Fough and given her a pathetic $250 voucher. As if she would ever fly on their planes again.
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