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Opinion: A Note to Passengers, Read the Fine Print

Inside a Delta Air Lines cabin (Photo: AirlineGeeks | Alex Navitsky)

Disputes between airline employees and passengers have been in the news a lot recently. It seems like ever since the incident on United flight 3411 in April, a new story about a passenger getting in a fight makes its rounds through mass media. While it is great to express your feelings about a mishap in any industry, there is a much better way to handle matters rather than social media.

This year alone, there has been well over ten incidents that have been picked up by major news sources after being tossed around on various social media platforms. However, I will only mention five. All of which were sparked following the United incident in Chicago. And most of which, and I heavily emphasize most, the airline employees acted in accordance with their company’s policies. The passengers, on the other hand, did not.

Dr. Dao’s Viral Limelight

To start off, I will discuss the viral story that started this year’s list of lunatic passengers: United flight 3411. The flight was fully booked and United Airlines needed to get a crew to Louisville for an early morning flight the next day. After repeatedly asking for volunteers to give up their seats and be fully compensated, the airline had to resort to randomly picking four passengers to leave the flight.

Three disappointed passengers left the flight without a hassle; then comes Dr. David Dao. Dao refused to give up his seat claiming that he had a patient to see the next morning. United had to eventually request airport security to escort the passenger off the plane. When the man put up a fight, the officers had to use force to drag him off. He reportedly gained a concussion and lost a few teeth in the process.

Fellow passengers instantly hit social media with pictures and videos of the scene. The next day, major news sources picked up the story and it became the next viral thing. Hate for United poured in from everywhere. The blame, in its entirety, was smacked in the carrier’s face, causing United a massive PR clean up.

However, once people finally read the fine print, which stated that the company does indeed have the rights to remove passengers from flights for a variety of reasons, the heat calmed and some attention was put on the officers. Since the incident, United has updated their overbooking policies and has settled with Dr. Dao.

Stroller vs. Passenger vs. Flight Attendant

When a woman tried boarding an American Airlines flight with a stroller, a flight attendant confronted her and told her the stroller would need to be gate checked, the lady reportedly threw a fit and refused. The flight attendant, who probably wasn’t too keen on arguing much longer, took the stroller and hit the lady. This caused other passengers to step in and attempt to fight the employee. The passenger who left the flight crying was fully compensated by American.

And of course, just like everything nowadays, a video of the entire incident rode the massive tides of the web and was seen by an enormous amount of people. While the flight attendant did go overboard with the whole striking the woman with a stroller part, the lady did not follow the company’s guidelines, which is laid out for all customers to view when booking a ticket.

Delta and a Car Seat

A family was removed from a Delta flight after they could not follow the rules regarding a car seat being placed on an aircraft seat. The family refused to place their 2-year-old on the lap of a parent.

After a while of back and forth, the family was told they had to leave the flight or go to jail. The Schear family finally agreed to place the child on their lap and move on, however, the Delta Air Lines agent did not agree. The employee forced the family to leave the flight and find another ride home stating, “you are on your own.”

The family did buy their toddler a ticket but it was still deemed “illegal” to place the child on the seat due to safety reasons. On the contrary, Delta’s website says, “For kids under the age of 2, we recommend you purchase a seat on the aircraft and use an approved child safety seat.” Well apparently, the employee didn’t believe the Schear’s seat was approved.

An ‘Attacked’ Musician

A violinist has recently taken to her FaceBook feed to voice her bad customer experience on United. The musician has reported hand injuries after a United Airlines employee had to “wrestle” a violin from the passenger who refused to board the flight without her precious instrument.

Look, I get it, the 17th– century violin is probably worth a pretty penny so the musician had the right mindset of bringing it onboard. It is smart to bring all valuables on the aircraft with you, even the airlines say it could be broke in your checked bags and recommend bringing valuables as a carry-on. However, not all valuable items can fit in the cabin of an airliner.

While this incident is still new and the reason for the employee’s behavior is yet to be determined, the violinist has already filed a lawsuit claiming that, on top of a hand injury, she missed her flight and symphony rehearsal due to the incident.

An All Nippon Brawl

I know this was not a direct passenger vs. employee situation, I still felt it was necessary to mention as it was a recent viral incident. I’m pretty sure fighting is against airline policy after all. Two men onboard All Nippon Airways flight 6 to Los Angeles started a fistfight while on the ground in Tokyo.

Even though the incident was not between a passenger and a staff member, an ANA employee was injured while attempting to break up the flight. The cause of the incident was unknown and the man was charged with assault on the employee.

Again, there are a lot more stories of passengers and airlines not getting along. But have you noticed a trend here? When something goes wrong between customer and employee, it is usually due to the passenger not reading the fine print, the social media storm rages and boy is it a feisty storm.

There are better ways to make complaints about your experience on a flight. If the employees confront you about something, rather it be about giving up your seat for a commuting crew member, or wrestling the gate agent, please formally confront the airline. If you feel as if you were mistreated, take up the issue legally. It not only makes you as a passenger look better, but it also protects the deteriorating good name of the airline industry.

While I have not worked in the customer service field (and for a good reason), I do know that it is a tough field to work in. Please, give the airlines and its employees a break, read the fine print, follow the rules, and be nice to those who are there to serve you and keep you safe while flying. Airline employees are people too.

Matthew Garcia


  • Matthew Garcia

    Matthew Garcia became interested in aviation at the age of 12 when he installed Microsoft Flight Simulator X on his computer. He was instantly "bitten by the bug" and has been in love with aviation ever since. Matthew took his first introductory flight in 2013 and began normal flight training in February of 2015. Over the years, Matthew's love and knowledge for aviation has grown tremendously, mainly due to FSX. Garcia flies highly advanced aircraft in a professional manner on a highly complex virtual air traffic network simulating real world flying. In 2016 Matthew achieved his private pilot certificate from the FAA. Now he studies journalism at the University of Nebraska at Omaha.

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