Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Passenger Meltdown on Southwest Flight 4919

I witnessed my first passenger meltdown that lead to a family being removed from a plane this past Sunday.  New Orleans, MSY airport.  An early afternoon flight.  The players were a black family of 3-4 adults.  Note they were light complexioned black people.  During pre boarding several of them came up to board the plane first.  I could not tell what medical, physical, or mental ailment they had that warranted all the family trying to pre board.  The gate attendant did inform them that only one family member could accompany the person who was approved for pre boarding.  I thought I heard a female adult say she had some condition that supported her pre boarding.  But it did seem as if the gate agent let an additional family member board who probably by the rules should not have done so at that time. One or two of the family members remained in the terminal to board with a later group.

When it came time for my group to board apparently some type of confrontation had already occurred inside the plane regarding someone trying to save a seat for a passenger who was going to board later.  A light complexioned black woman sitting behind us was talking about how the flight attendant had been wrong in moving one of her items.  I thought she was talking about an item in the storage space, but that would be clarified shortly that it was a personal item she had laid on a seat to save the seat for her daughter.

The daughter of the woman came on board.  For some reason the mother who was complaining behind us still made a comment to the daughter that she had been mistreated.  This got the daughter going and she started asking and repeated asking her mother numerous times, "who was it?"  "What happened?"  She was speaking loud enough for people around her to hear her.  The dialogue continued to the point where a flight attendant finally came up to try to calm the situation down. This didn't work as the chatter continued.  This lead to the flight attendant telling the daughter that she needed to get off the plane.

Now that of course got the daughter going into overdrive and she said she refused to get off.  She wanted to know why.  Then she explained numerous times that all she had done was go to use the rest room in the back of the plane and then come back to her seat.  I was under the assumption that maybe she had tried to confront the person or flight attendant who had either moved her mom's item from a seat or had complained to the attendant about the attempt to save the seat.

All of this resulted in security getting on the plane and after a 30 minute delay the woman and her two parents left the plane.  The daughter raised the complaint that it was a racial issue.  I think basically it came down to Southwest getting relaxed on allowing passengers to try to save seats for other people and not enforcing the no saved seat rule.  Also, I don't recall the Gate Agent or flight attendants reminding people that seats could not and should not be saved.  Southwest, in my opinion, was therefore complacent in allowing the situation to occur and escalate to the point it did.

When I returned home I sent a complaint letter to Southwest.  Southwest responded that they would be conducting an investigation of the incident and someone would respond within 30 days.

The lessons learned.  If you feel you have been wronged do not create a spectacle on the plane.  That behavior will guarantee that you will be seen as a possible threat or that you might initiated a follow up disturbance once the plane departs.  Document your complaint and file it after you get to your destination.  In this case the daughter and her parents likely did not get home at a convenient hour that day.  The mother should not have shared what she went through with the daughter.  All she did was get her daughter riled up to the point that they were all removed from the plane.  The gate attendant who had allowed the mother to board should likely be reprimanded as her actions assisted in creating the follow up drama of the mother attempting to save a seat.  Southwest airlines should clearly restate the no saved seat policy verbally as passengers are lining up for their boarding group.  Flight attendants on the plane should verbally remind passengers that there is no policy that allows them to save seats for other.

I await the decision of Southwest.  Many parties were at fault.  All of us passengers suffered a 30 minute plus delay based on the attempt of people to save a seat for someone else.  Selfish behavior inconvenienced us all.