American Airlines reopened the plane’s door for us — then kicked us off!

Kathleen Mastergeorge says that she and her husband were “harassed” and “bullied” and ultimately kicked off their American Airlines flight by the lead flight attendant. She wants compensation for the cost of the flight. But is that a reasonable request?

Mastergeorge’s story is a case study of how not to behave on a commercial flight when one is not receiving the service one would like from airline personnel.

Kicked off their American Airlines flight

The Mastergeorges were flying from Boston to St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, via Philadelphia. Their Boston-to-Philadelphia flight arrived late, but American Airlines held their connecting flight for them and one other passenger and reopened the airplane doors so they could board the flight to St. Thomas.

Here’s Mastergeorge on what happened next:

The entire flight crew, both [on the] ground and [the] flight, were extremely rude. The ground flight ripped up our first class tickets with no [information], … handed us new tickets and rudely told us to get on the plane. The head stewardess on the plane rudely told us to “sit wherever.” She gave our first class tickets away. That caused chaos amongst the late passengers as to where to sit.

I went up to the head stewardess and kindly asked if we could have our first-class seats back. She began bullying and harassing me, saying “If you’re not happy, get off the plane.”

Not kicked off their American Airlines flight…yet

From there, things quickly escalated. And the evening went from annoying to worse — much worse for the couple.

She told me [that] I was late getting [there], and I explained I wasn’t late; American Airlines was late getting us [there]. She was rolling her eyes towards the door of the plane and kept saying “you need to tell me you’re happy” over and over. I replied I was not happy, but that I will take my seat and everything was good. I was shocked!!!!

Soon after taking my seat, she came all the way down to seat 20A from first class and asked if I was going to be a problem. Shocked again, I said no. She then began bullying and harassing me again saying I needed to say I was happy.

I said, “Everything is fine; can we just go?” She kept it up. My husband told her to “chill.”

She walked away, and then sent another stewardess to tell us that the pilot asked us to leave the plane. Again, beyond shocked!!!

My husband tried to talk to the pilot and he rudely said, “Get off the plane.” As we were kicked off, the head stewardess gave us a “bye, bye” wave.

We are an older couple who were beyond bullied and harassed. We were celebrating retirement and an earlier birthday. My husband has Platinum status. The head stewardess refused to give us her name; she covered her name tag with her sweater. The ground supervisor refused to give us her name.

Posting their story to the forum

Mastergeorge posted in our forum about her experience, where responses were mixed. Some of the members believe American Airlines should apologize to the Mastergeorges and refund their airfares. But others pointed out that Mastergeorge had referred to the persons sitting in her and her husband’s first-class seats “poachers.” They also mentioned that American Airlines had the right to give away their seats to standby passengers because the Mastergeorges had arrived for the flight late, even though it wasn’t their fault that the Boston-to-Philadelphia leg of their flight had been delayed.

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Then Mastergeorge asked our advocacy team for help. She wanted compensation for their flight.

Although she might escalate her complaint to American Airlines executives using our contact information, the team doesn’t believe she has a case.

American Airlines’ conditions of carriage provide that for travel to the U.S. Virgin Islands, passengers must be at their flight gates at least 30 minutes prior to the flight’s scheduled departure to board the plane. It’s standard procedure for airlines to release seats that aren’t being used — including first-class reserved seats — to standby passengers when the original passengers haven’t arrived on time, even when their connecting flight is delayed, as happened in the Mastergeorges’ case.

Given that American already had delayed its flight and allowed the Mastergeorges to board after the crew had closed the airplane doors, it was out of line for the Mastergeorges to ask for their first-class seats back, let alone tell the lead flight attendant to “chill.” As they found out the hard way, the crew members control the flight and can treat the passengers any way they see fit.

The bottom line

It may be poor customer service, but talking back to a crew member can indeed result in being kicked off the flight. And there’s no legal recourse — every airline’s conditions of carriage allows it to remove passengers from flights who are perceived as interfering with crew members’ duties.

The airlines can also blacklist passengers on future flights, confiscate loyalty points and revoke special status of passengers whom they believe are not respecting flight crew members or following airline rules. And it’s a federal criminal offense to interfere with the duties of a flight crew member, no matter how unpleasant they’re being.

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Our advocates have decided not to pursue the Mastergeorges’ case. Instead, we are writing about it to warn future air passengers: No matter how provoked a flight crew member makes you feel, never lose your cool. Obey all instructions from a crew member and wait until after the flight to issue any complaints. Otherwise, you might be grounded from the airline — permanently.

Jennifer Finger

Jennifer is the founder of KeenReader, an Internet-based freelance editing operation, as well as a certified public accountant. She is a senior writer for Elliott.org. Read more of Jennifer's articles here.

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