Can this trip be saved? Caught in the middle of an in-flight altercation

They say there are two sides to every story. But in today’s installment of “Can this trip be saved?” there are three.

That would be the passenger’s, the crewmember’s and Christina Ernst’s. She’s the travel agent. Ernst isn’t sure what to do about this case, and after hearing about it, neither am I.

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Maybe you can help.

Her client contacted her last month because she needed to get to Germany quickly. Her mother was dying.

“I found her a last minute consolidator fare saving her $500 into Frankfurt,” says Ernst. “Her mother did pass away, and she tried to change her ticket coming home, since she had to settle her estate.”

Her airline, US Airways, told her it would cost somewhere between $1,300 and $1,500 to change her ticket to a week later. Ernst told her to go to the airport instead, to see if she could do better. She ended up paying a 700 euro change fee, plus a $176 euro re-issue fee, even thought her client showed the ticket agent a death certificate.

To add insult to injury, US Airways insisted that she pay a 55 euro fee for her second checked bag.

After the flight was in the air, they told passengers they would be charging for head phones and drinks. My client asked, “Since when?” and a crew member told her “For years.” But my client did not have to pay on her way to Germany for either.

About an hour and a half into the flight the crew began serving meals. The crew member offered her a meal but my client informed her that she had ordered an Asian vegetarian meal three hours earlier when she checked in. My client stated the crew member was not friendly and told her they had no vegetarian dishes.

At this time, my client had reached a boiling point and said, “What the F#@% is wrong with you people?”


You can imagine what happened next.

A crew member was brought over, and she told the Ernst’s client that she’d be arrested after they landed. Her offense? “Interfering with a crew member.”

The client began crying. She tried to explain she’d had a horrible week, with her mother dying. The crewmembers didn’t buy it.

One crewmember left and returned with a NOTICE OF FEDERAL REGULATION VIOLATION. The crewmember told my client that the authorities were already in place in Philadelphia to arrest her immediately upon landing. She told her she had no rights nor would be served anymore, including water.

Two hours before landing, Ernst’s client, feeling a little dehydrated from all the crying and lack of water, apologized to the crewmember. The apology was accepted and the arrest was called off. She was also offered food.

“The attendant that gave her the original warning came by and threw a sandwich in her lap an hour after everyone else’s snacks were given out,” she says.

So now what?

I am truly in the middle. I do believe my client, but also do not know what to say or send into US Airways.

She really just wants them to work with her on her fees, even with proof of bereavement, and she feels they were too hard on her. She swears she did not curse at the crew member but ‘just in general’ because of the service.

Where should I go from here?

Well, this one raises a few interesting questions, doesn’t it?

1) Is dropping the F-bomb the same thing as “interfering” with the crew, or is it merely offending a flight attendant?

2) If the flight was from Germany to the United States, and they were over the ocean when this happened, how can they invoke federal law? I’m no lawyer, so maybe someone can clarify.

3) Did US Airways deserve this treatment for luring Ernst’s client in with a low fare in her hour of need and then bilking her with ridiculous fees? Or is this just the way the game is played — you offer a low fare and then sock it to the passenger when life happens?

Ernst is sending this to US Airways. “I have no problem going to bat for my clients but this one crosses a fine line that makes it difficult in my line of work,” she says.

If US Airways tells her client to take a hike — and I’m pretty sure it will — then should I take the case?

I don’t know. I’ve always been a big believer in the power of politeness, and I think Ernst’s client should have tried to handle this through more conventional means, instead of swearing at the attendant. But on the other hand, I think if my mother had died and the airline was trying to bilk me for more than a thousand bucks, I’d be tempted to give a crewmember a piece of my mind.

Should I get involved?

Update: Just heard back from Ernst: “US Airways responded with a $150 travel voucher and a note stating they are very sorry about the incident they will speak to the flight attendant involved, but due to confidentiality laws that’s where it ends.

(Photo: The Wingy/Flickr Creative Commons)

147 thoughts on “Can this trip be saved? Caught in the middle of an in-flight altercation

  1. Is dropping the F-bomb the same thing as “interfering” with the crew, or is it merely offending a flight attendant?
    Definitely the latter. If someone becomes angry with their treatment by an organisation, and swears in a non-threatening way that’s targeted at the organisation rather than personally at the individual (“what the f- is wrong with you people?” is not the same as “f- you”), then that should be treated as a breach of etiquette, not a criminal matter. Obviously, it’d be better if everyone exercised 100% self-control at all times, but that isn’t a realistic level to hold people to.

    In terms of Federal law, the US claims jurisdiction over all US-registered aircraft.

    1. What is the difference between “you” and “you people” in this situation? If someone is on your face (standing or leaning over your seat talking to you) and you target the organization in the face of the representative of that organization how is the significantly different? Obviously we don’t know exactly how it happened of the tone of volume at which the comment was made, but I think the way the passenger said something in this case is more important than directing the comment at “you” vs. “you people.”

      1. I disagree. In school/college/post-college days, I did several jobs where I’d very happily have agreed that the organisation was f-ed up, but perceived it very differently if a customer had directed a personal insult at *me*. If the flight attendant in this case emphasizes so strongly with United as an organisation that she takes criticism of the brand as a personal insult, she probably needs psychiatric help.

    2. Unfortunately, I think I have to say that hurling an insult like that is interfering with the crew. There are a lot more of us (passengers) than there are of them (crew) and there aren’t a whole lot of options for dealing with a crowd of angry people when you’re over the ocean, so maintaining control is paramount. If they allow being cursed at, then it may escalate. 

      Personally, I think the person in question should be thankful that the flight attendant accepted the apology and dropped the charges. 

      1. The notion that this is interfering is insulting.

        The fact is, flight attendants are abusing their position and federal law to keep people in line. Which sounds an awful lot like an actual government agency we all have to put up with at airports.

        US Airlines treated this customer like dirt, and that’s unacceptable.

        1. “US Airlines treated this customer like dirt” after the client said “What the F#@% is wrong with you people?”
          Doesn’t sound unreasonable really. I would do the same.

          1. @Sarah J  – If you read the account of what happened, she cursed at the flight attendant AFTER multiple instances of poor treatment both by airport personnel and the flight attendant.

      2. I don’t completely disagree with you, in that certainly insulting someone who is supposed to be providing you service is technically interfering. However in the context of a criminal charge of interference of a crew member this is not that.  Dealing with unhappy/unreasonable customers is part of any customer service job.   I’d hard pressed to ever consider a criminal charge under that regulation if the customer both a) stayed in their seat, and b) wasn’t repeatedly screaming profanities.  

        1. Huh???

          There’s not a single definition of “Interfere” that I can twist to come up with the opinion that a single, eight word expletive constitutes interference.

      3. Sounds like an over sensative crew memeber.  I know it’s a tough job and people are difficult But, when you’re stuck in a metal tube flying through the air you need to be able to recognize different types of behavior (the frustrated person vs the angry borderline violent person), and then work them.  If your solution to rude people is having them arrested you’ll have a short (but mentally long) career. 

        While saying that is rude, it’s not interferring.  and it has nothing to do with the fees they had to pay.

  2. I don’t think using the f-bomb is interfering. I believe it probably just upset the FA. It’s certainly not an offense worth calling the cops over. If I was grieving and having the same issues, I’m sure more than the f-bomb would have been said in my frustration.

    1. Monica, you took the words out of my mouth.  I’m actually impressed with this person’s composure under the circumstances.  I would’ve been screaming hysterically a lot worse things…
      Plus, it sounds like we have a FA here who wants to be a TSA agent when she/he grows up!  Since when are airline staff exempt from criticism?  If every business in the US could have customers arrested when they got angry because of bad service, how many of us would still be loose and walking around on the street?! 
      I used to live and work in the Soviet Bloc, and I did plenty of screaming (justified, believe me!) at communist-trained clerks, waitresses, and other assorted employees… and while they were startled, annoyed, and at worst overtly surly, I can assure you that ARRESTING me was never on the table. 
      Is there not some sort of irony here?   

  3. 1) So far we only have The Client’s side of the story – who knows what really happened?! However, the conflict was soon resolved, and in either case it has nothing to do with the question of fees.

    2) Ask a lawyer.

    3) I believe it would be for the travel agent to explain the conditions of the ticket to The Client; nonrefundable, change fees, luggage fees, etc. Did Ernst do this? And did The Client contact Ernst before changing her ticket and handing over the €867? She could have bought a new ticket for less!? This sounds like a case of paying before thinking.

    1. So far we only have The Client’s side of the story – who knows what really happened?!
      Not solely. We know that the airline either never radioed for police assistance or called off its plan to radio for police assistance, and that it never pressed charges against the customer. This strongly suggests the customer didn’t do anything worse than her agent has listed here, given the repeatedly demonstrated willingness of airlines to throw the book whenever customers do. 

      1. The flight attendant(s) may initially have perceived the passenger as threatening, which is why I’d like an account of the incident from the other side or (ideally) another passenger. 

        1. Agreed. My guess is that the cabin crew member read the situation wrongly and overreacted, but that – because of the procedures that are rightly in place to deal with genuinely abusive passengers who represent a risk to cabin crew and potentially to flight safety – the purser didn’t want to be perceived as failing to back up a member of their team acting in a difficult situation.

          In which case, all credit to the purser for investigating the incident during the flight and deciding not to overreact by running with the original judgment.But it’s a pity that the incident couldn’t have been resolved in-flight with an apology and by sending out a different crew member to deal with the passenger subsequently (that final meal-handing-out should not have happened – it’s a gratuitous conflict that’s not good either for the attendant or the passenger). On a long-haul flight, there are enough crew available to do that.

          1. And that’s part of the problem: you say the slightest thing, you can find yourself arrested.

            But if you’re on the receiving end of the abuse – and by this account, the ‘abuse’ was equal on both sides – you have NO recourse whatsoever.

          2. Yes, but isn’t that something that’s inherent when you take a customer services job?

            I still remember when I worked in a service station, and the [very upper-class, Jaguar-driving, 40something] customer wanted some batteries for his daughter’s Discman (yes, dates me) and I happened to have the same model, and I told him the batteries he needed were a different class, and he called me a f-ing idiot and to stop talking back to him, so I sold him the wrong ones that he wanted instead. I was right, and he was an offensive, arrogant fool having a bad day, but I never even considered reporting him to anyone.Flight crew have the right of arrest because airplanes are a confined space, and because “fool having a bad day” – “threatening” – “lunatic who’ll try and take the plane down” are a continuum rather than an easy thing to judge. But this woman was, at worst, on the “fool having a bad day” – “threatening continuum”, and as such should not have been threatened with the flight crew’s powers of arrest.

        2. I agree: I’d like to hear from another passenger. F*** is not the first word to come out of my mouth when I’m upset or angry.  Regardless, I’m sorry for Ms. Ernst’s client’s loss.  My condolences.

          1. There’s an implication from the meal choice and some of the other details that the passenger is of Indian origin rather than of US origin. As a Brit by birth, I’m more likely to use the f-word in ‘upset but not violently angry’ situations than most Americans I know.

            Not in flight, because I fly often enough to know that if I can’t control myself then polite deference followed by a complaint when I’ve calmed down is a better way of staying out of jail than self-indulgent rage, but in general.

            And in my experience, the same more casual use of f- is true for the English-speakers I know who’ve grown up in India (Irish or Australians even more so still). Whenever I’ve worked or trained people in customer services dealing with clients from many nations, I’ve tried to make agents aware of this difference (so if you’re dealing with an American who says f-, then he’s quite possibly going to punch you next; if it’s a Scotsman, he’s just being friendly).

            It wouldn’t surprise me at all, based on my experience of other ways I’ve seen US-based airlines treat people who don’t behave according to US cultural norms, if US Airways did little or no training along those lines (this is arguably fair enough for domestic flights – but I’m not sure it’s reasonable for international ones. I don’t think this woman would have gotten this reaction on BA, Qantas, Singapore or Lufthansa.)

          2. True, the F-word is seen as less obscene in some places. That said, this woman presumably lives in the US, travelled on an American airline and F-worded in front of a (presumably) American flight attendant – if she was unaware of what the F-word would do for her exclamation, I’d say it’s her own fault for being ignorant. BTW, a mother in Germany could indicate the passenger is of German origin.

          3. Sure, but the flight attendant doesn’t know the passenger’s resume – she could just as well be flying codeshare India-Germany-US, as far as the attendant knows.

            I see what you mean on the final point (obviously), but I’ve not met any German-born Germans who keep to an Indian veggie diet (Indian veggie and general veggie are different options on airlines’ specialist menus).

    2. I would like to know why did the travel agent recommend the most restrictive ticket to her client when the situation called for flexibility.  Did the travel agent assumed that her client wanted to save money?  Did the OP requested the lowest fare regardless of her situaiton?  Did the travel agent disclosed all of the restrictions, risks, etc. to her client?

      1. My thoughts exactly. Not to be insensitive about it, but the OP was visiting someone who, according to the story, was dying. One assumes that the possibility of having to stay to “take care of things” had to have entered her mind, thus blowing the schedule out of the water. If the OP conveyed this information to the agent, the agent should not have recommended a consolidated fare.

        1. Wrong! It is very easy to change a consolidator fare if you follow their rules. I use them 10 times a day for normal travel, emergency travel, even 1st class travel. You just cannot make the change with the airline.

      2. The travel agent did absolutely right at the time. Save the money. A fully refundable ticket would have been in the several thousand dollar range. Nobody could have assumed that there would be a death. The airlines are heartless.$$$$$ that is all they want. The refund rules are for the death of the passenger alone, after that it is up to the airlines PR to decide $$$

  4. And this is exactly why I swore off flying, to the maximum extent possible.

    I believe the passenger’s side of the story. But I also believe that nothing can be done about it. The only thing that will make any kind of a difference, is a massive consumer boycott of the commercial aviation industry.

    Until that happens, the sheeple will be required to surrender their personal dignity immediately upon entering the boundaries of any commercial airport.

    1. I guess then, if it had been your mother dying in Germany you would have taken a ship and trains to try to get there in time? 

      1. It must’ve been your knee’s violent jerking fit that prevented you from reading the words “to the maximum extent possible”, above.

        I can’t help but notice that the majority of pro-TSA, pro-statist, pro-big government shills posting here are doing so anonymously.

        1. Except that basically all this person’s problems were directly tied to the death having occurred. Without that there’s no last minute ticket purchase, no change in plans incurring extra fees, no trying to get a special meal 3 hours before the flight, no circumstances to warrant cussing out the flight attendant.  So, if you want to swear off flying for the chance you’ll get charged a couple extra bucks for headphones, good on ya, but otherwise your post was pointless.

  5. 1) No.  The crewmember was out of line.  It would have been reasonable to pass off service for this pax to somebody else for the rest of the flight, but having the pax arrested?  That’s a bit of an overreaction.

    2) I dunno.  Maybe since it’s a US Airline on it’s way to a US destination, the US can claim jurisdiction.  (If an ACTUAL crime takes place in the air, SOMEBODY is going to have jurisdiction.)

    3) “Did US Airways deserve this treatment for luring Ernst’s client in with a
    low fare in her hour of need and then bilking her with ridiculous fees?
    Or is this just the way the game is played — you offer a low fare and
    then sock it to the passenger when life happens?” 

    Chris, to be frank, this question makes you look a bit unprofessional.  “Luring [her] in with a low fare in her time of need”?  You write as if some sinister revenue manager in Tempe is evilly cackling and pounding away at the keyboard while he/she negotiates discount fares with a ticket consolidator… “Bwahahaahaa!!!  Let me make sure the change fees for these tickets are EXTRA high on the off-chance that they are bought by somebody with a very sick parent instead of the bargain-seeking vacationers and backpackers that usually buy them!”

    Consolidator fares have ALWAYS been very restrictive with very high change fees; it’s one reason those fares are so cheap.  She’s lucky she was able to change it at all, some of those tickets can’t be touched (i.e. Priceline fares.)  I have a feeling that US Air might have been a hair more flexible if she had a regular restricted ticket, and certainly the fees would have been lower.  And in this particular case, with such a dynamic situation, the travel agent should not have sold her such a restricted ticket to begin with (or at least given the client a head’s up), as there was a very high likelihood that plans were going to change.

    Lastly, I always thought special meals had to be ordered 24 hours in advance?  Has this changed?

    1. I agree with you wholeheartedly that the agent didn’t do the right thing (far better to pay an extra $500 and then get to extend free-of-charge if your mother lives unexpectedly long / dies unexpectedly soon / etc, rather than creating this kind of situation in the first place).

      On the meal, pretty sure they do require notice – this is presumably a failing of the ticketing agent at the airport, for putting an entry in the computer without realising (/without telling the passenger) that it wouldn’t do anything.

        1. Can a vegetarian meal really be considered special any more?

          On the last international flight where they served a meal, there were only 3 options, and I believe one of them was vegetarian. I don’t recall getting to choose a head of time, either, and I was stuck with a meal I didn’t really want (none of the options were very appealing).

          1. That was my thought, as well. 3 hours doesn’t give much time to get things squared away. I’d think in that small a window, you’d be living on the prayer that they already had the meal ready to go on the flight.

    2. I agree with you that the third question that Chris asked does make him look unprofessional.  First, US Airways does NOT list consolidator fares on its website.  Second, US Airways did NOT recommend this consoidator fare to Ernest’s client…it was the travel agent that recommend the most restrictive ticket, a consolidator ticket, with the most expensive change fees, to her client.

      I think that the travel agent made the mistake by offering the most restrictive ticket from an airline to a passenger in a situation that required flexibility.

  6. Her real complain is that she didn’t want to spend so much money.

    There’s a difference in how things are handled if you tell a sales clerk to fu** off and if you say the same thing to airline crew at 38,000 feet on a 9 hour transatlantic flight. The store clerk could just ask you to leave or she would call the cops. The cabin staff can’t call anybody and doesn’t know whether your obscenities are a prelude to a psychotic episode are air rage. They needed to shut her down and telling her she was going to be arrested did the job.

  7. I’d say that the airline is lucky – they must have realized that if they had the OP arrested on arrival, they’d have a publicity nightmare on their hands once the word got out that she’d just lost her mother and had simply asked a reasonable – if rude – question.  It’s not a crime to swear in a public place, including an airplane, and if the OP is telling the truth she posed no threat to the flight attendants and didn’t interfere with their work.  I’d say the airline owes her a pretty serious apology, and maybe some money as well if they have a policy for bereavement. If she doesn’t get a refund, she should publicize the flight crew’s over-reaction to her very legitimate anger as widely as possible. So yes, you should mediate.

  8. More overreaction by the airlines.  First you can’t move under certain circumstances (your movements might be considered “threatening”), now you can’t speak.  Unless they tell you when, where, and how.  “Interfering with a flight crew” is now the cudgel used to beat the head of anyone the airlines choose.  Remember that woman JetBlue dragged off the plane because she had taken a video with her cellphone of a passenger altercation, or the person kicked off for wearing an eye mask (both stories on right-hand side of this page)?

    I agree that flight attendants have to deal with a lot of crap from obnoxious passengers, and I feel for them.  But in this case, they’re in the wrong.

    1. “now you can’t speak” – ??
      “now you can’t tell people to f**k off” – that is what’s going on, which is sort of reasonable, especially given her attitude. When this happens, this often means that someone is looking to start a fight or what not, so preventing that is valid.

  9. I voted no. Regardless of her mother’s death and the airline’s ridiculous fees, the OP’s behavior on the flight was unacceptable. If the airline forgot her “special” meal, she should suck it up and either not eat or suffer with something else.

  10. Another question…if the TA knew of the situation (the OP’s mother was dying) why suggest she buy a CHANGEABLE ticket? Yes, it would cost more up front, but she would have the flexibility in her return.

  11. There are 2 issues here:
    (1) Were the changes fees charged within the CONTRACT or TARIFF?
    (2) Was the airline right is using the Interference with Flight Crew Members and Attendants section of Title 49, United States Code?

    First: Is the change fee correct?

    Having read this statement from her agent – “I found her a last minute consolidator fare saving her $500 into Frankfurt” – I am more likely to assume (guess only!) that she purchased BULK/Negotiated Fare tickets (NOT Published Fare tickets).

    If you read the CANCELLATION & CHANGE Rules of USAir, they are different for published and bulk fares. First here is the change rule for Published Fares:

          ANY TIME                                                
            CHARGE USD 250.00 FOR REISSUE.                        
            CHILD/INFANT DISCOUNTS APPLY.                         
            WAIVED FOR DEATH OF PASSENGER.                        
             NOTE –                                               
              DATE OF COMMENCEMENT OF TRAVEL.                     

    Now here is the change rule for BULK fares:

        BEFORE DEPARTURE                                          
          CHARGE USD 250.00 FOR REISSUE/REVALIDATION.             
             NOTE –                                               
        AFTER DEPARTURE                                           
          CHARGE USD 200.00 FOR REISSUE/REVALIDATION.             
             NOTE –                                               
    Also note the penalties for Cancellation on Bulk Fare tickets:

        BEFORE DEPARTURE                                          
          CHARGE USD 300.00.                                      
             NOTE –                                               
              NOT PERMITTED AFTER DEPARTURE.                      
              NO FEE FOR INFANT WITHOUT A SEAT.                   
        AFTER DEPARTURE                                           

    Notice that *DEATH OF A PARENT WHO IS NOT A COMPANION* is not a valid waiver for change fees for Published Fare tickets. Worse, Bulk Fare tickets do not even have waivers for any kind of death. Also note that for BULK fare tickets, one can only change the DATE of travel (after paying a fee); and cannot the change the BOOKING CLASS – therefore must wait for a seat to open at the same booking class the original ticket was booked on.

    Since the passenger was charged a reissue fee PLUS the difference in fare, then I assume she was holding a PUBLISHED Fare ticket and even a death in the family is not considered as a waiver for this by USAir. You may believe that USAir is too damn cold hearted, but the TARIFF, contract between the airline and passenger, has been agreed to by both sides.

    Second, is the airline right in envoking Section 46504 of Title 49, United States Code?
    First what is the law? Source:

    9-63.110 Interference with Flight Crew Members and Attendants
        Section 46504 of Title 49, United States Code (formerly section 1472(j) of Title 49 Appendix) sets forth the offense of interference with a flight crew member or flight attendant within the special aircraft jurisdiction of the United States, which is defined in 49 U.S.C. § 46501(2). The statute applies to any “individual on an aircraft in the special aircraft jurisdiction of the United States who, by assaulting or intimidating a flight crew member or flight attendant of the aircraft, interferes with the performance of the duties of the member or attendant or lessens the ability of the member or attendant to perform those duties.” The statute provides for up to 20 years imprisonment, and further provides for imprisonment for any term of years or life if a dangerous weapon is used. Interference with a flight crew member or attendant is a general intent crime, and does not require a specific intent either to intimidate the flight crew member or attendant or to interfere with the performance of his or her duties. United States v. Grossman, 131 F.3d 1449 (11th Cir. 1997).

    If the attendant felt intimidated by the passenger’s behavior and believed that she interfered with the performance of his/her duty, then the passenger could be *accused* of breaking this law. She (the passenger) was lucky the attendant(s) accepted her apology and dropped the charges.

    TO ELLIOTT – “NO” to taking this case on. The airline did what they agreed to do in the contract (Tariff). I’m sorry if this sounds too cold and insensitive, but the travel agent and passenger could have picked a nicer airline or maybe buy a travel insurance policy that covers what might have been expected.

    1. Hmmm… Tony A….:

      1. An Airline Employee.
      2. A Laywer
      3. Both……trying the case in the media?

      It’s not for me to judge, or even speculate….but you, the public should decide this one as well as a addendum to the poll at hand…..he spends a lot of real estate to “prove” this woman is wrong and the airline is RIGHT… What so you all?

      Got news for him….the airline behaved badly….as they are more and more prone to do. They pulled garbage on my stepdaughter and reduced her to tears last year. My wife was lucky SHE didn’t get arrested. Fire them all, none of them deserve their jobs. The airline employees certainly don’t care about serving their customers…at some less than others.

      1. hw, can you specifically state WHAT THE AIRLINE DID WRONG? Where did they violate the contract between them and the passenger? Where did they go beyond the law?
        FYI – I am not an airline employee, not a lawyer, not a judge and executioner. I just know the contract of carriage and tariff of USAir and care to read it.

        1. There are a few people who like to know the facts before commenting, giving an opinion, etc.  Then there are some people who don’t want to have the facts but based their comments, opinions, etc. on emotions.

      2. Fire everyone, and then you will do all the airline employee work yourself?  I thought so.  People throw tantrums about 20 minutes delays or blame the airline when THEY THEMSELVES make mistakes on bookings or not arriving at the airport early enough.

        My guess is Tony A is a travel agent who has access to the actual fare rules and is simply posting them so people here will have the appropriate information.

        As long as we are jumping to conclusions, you seem like one of the over-entitled travelers who would berate said employee when you arrive too late to get checked in, and other such boorish behavior. 

        Oh, but it’s not for me to judge, or speculate.  It’s for you, the public, to make your own decisions. 

      3. fire all of us, huh? NONE of us deserve our jobs? i certainly hope you’re using gross hyperbole with those statements.  i have done nothing to warrant getting fired, and in fact i have worked hard to keep my job, feeling as though i do deserve it.  the fact that you lump every.single.airline.employee together as unworthy shows how unreasonable you are.
        don’t you dare suppose that you understand me or what i do every day. i have had an exemplary record for over a decade, yet you come here with a sweeping statement that all folks like me should be fired?  Real nice. but…it’s not for you to judge.

    2. The cited material summarizes, but does not actually contain the text of, applicable law. Two sections come into play, 49 U.S.C. §§ 46504 and 46501. The former reads as follows.

      An individual on an aircraft in the special aircraft jurisdiction of the
      United States who, by assaulting or intimidating a flight crew member
      or flight attendant of the aircraft, interferes with the performance of
      the duties of the member or attendant or lessens the ability of the
      member or attendant to perform those duties, or attempts or conspires to
      do such an act, shall be fined under title 18, imprisoned for not more
      than 20 years, or both. However, if a dangerous weapon is used in
      assaulting or intimidating the member or attendant, the individual shall
      be imprisoned for any term of years or for life.

      The latter defines the “special aircraft jurisdiction of the United States” as including “a civil aircraft of the United States” while “in flight.”Thus, there appears to be jurisdiction, although the question of whether or not the statute was violated is unsettled. From the factual description it does not appear that the passenger did anything that would either interfere with, or lessen the ability of the flight attendant to perform, his or her duties. There are, however, two aspects to this statute that should be resolved (and perhaps case law does resolve). First, do the “duties” to which the statute refers relate only to duties directly related to the operation of the aircraft, or do those duties also entail all responsibilities given to the flight attendant by the carrier, no matter how remote any particular duty is to the operation of the aircraft? Second, does the statute only prohibit activity that would interfere with (or lessen the ability to perform) such duties apply only to effects on a reasonable flight attendant? Suppose a person makes a political statement within earshot of, and which is offensive to, a flight attendant (e.g., “I think President Obama is doing a wonderful/terrible job as president”), and as a result of having caused offense to the flight attendant, he or she is unable to continue serving meals to the remaining passengers on the airplane.

      1. LFH, most of what you wrote are excellent arguments in COURT. However, what’s to stop the airline from using the INTERFERENCE CARD during a flight? They can still get a passenger arrested and worry about the consequences later. So to be practical, I don’t suggest to anyone traveling to try the limits of a flight attendants temper. You might end up in jail.

        1. Your point is valid for most any dispute. A person may make out a complaint against someone else, and the law will later vindicate the wrongly-accused person. Meanwhile, there has been much inconvenience and expense. It is our system of jurisprudence. Suppose you’re standing on a public sidewalk with a camera, a police officer illegally instructs you not to photograph any people without first securing their permission. Do you take such photographs for which you have a right to do and thereby risk wrongful arrest and detention? Or do you acquiesce to the police officer’s instruction? It’s a personal decision.

          And you’re also correct that the issues involved are legal ones, and not ones relating to whether the carrier was doing things correctly in a business sense. (I’ve worked for many years in the transportation business, and there is a large divide between the management that sits in an office, and the operating people that perform their duties largely without direct supervision from management. It is not uncommon for those operating people to act dictatorially, perhaps a way for them to exercise some power that they are otherwise deprived of possessing, even though that power gets wielded arbitrarily.) I believe that in these cases management should make a quick initial investigation and determine if the employee made a reasonable (though not necessarily “correct”) decision based on the facts available to the employee at the time. If reasonable and correct then management should stand behind the employee. If reasonable but incorrect then management should not discipline the employee but should apologize to the passenger (with compensation if appropriate). If unreasonable then management should discipline the employee and apologize to the passenger. Only if employees are regularly disciplined in this manner can they be reined in from acting as dictators in the sky.

  12. 1) Is dropping the F-bomb the same thing as “interfering” with the crew, or is it merely offending a flight attendant?

    The way the question is asked, no. But, there is probably more to the story. If the passenger admitted that he/she reached a “boiling point” there is likely additional behavior that may suggest aggressive or frightening behavior.

    2) If the flight was from Germany to the United States, and they were
    over the ocean when this happened, how can they invoke federal law? I’m
    no lawyer, so maybe someone can clarify.

    Can’t answer this one.

    3) Did US Airways deserve this treatment for luring Ernst’s client in
    with a low fare in her hour of need and then bilking her with
    ridiculous fees? Or is this just the way the game is played — you offer a
    low fare and then sock it to the passenger when life happens?

    Huh? Unless I read the facts wrong, the client (via Ernst) purchased a CONSOLIDATOR fare. These are the most restrictive fares known to mankind. Consolidator fares aren’t even “published” fares. In my opinion, the client was fortunate enough to even be able to change the ticket. As for the ancillary fees (ie luggage fee, etc) unfortunately this is becoming industry standard. While I disagree with the nickel and dime approach, I don’t think its fair to single out US Airways as being the only company doing this.

    I think its also unfair to write that US Airways “bilked” the passenger for more than a thousand dollars. For that I blame Ernst, the travel agent. Frankly, she didn’t do her job. Why not book an open return ticket? or a more flexible ticket? If her goal was to try and save the passenger money, well, she failed. She took a gamble booking a consolidator ticket that saved $500, but in the long run, cost the client more money and gave the client a bad experience.

    Should you “help” the passenger?
    Only if helping means getting an explanation from US Airways for their side of the story. IF (and that’s a big if), the flight attendant did behave in the manner that the client stated, she should be terminated or at least retrained in company procedures. But should the client get any compensation other than an apology? NO

  13. I think that the travel agent made a mistake here by buying a consolidator ticket since they are very restrictive, high change fees, etc.  Given the situation (i.e. how long the mother is going to live; etc.), a refundable or a regular non-refundable ticket should have been purchased instead of trying to save $ 500 USD which ended up costing the OP $ 1243.92 USD ($ 1.42 Euro to $ 1.00 USD) in additional fees plus probably adding to the mental state of the passenger for her return flight.  Also, did the travel agent ask the OP if she was going to stay in Germany until her mother die; ask if she going to stay for the funneral; ask if she was going to stay for estate issues; etc.  To purchase the most restrictive ticket for an uncertain travel period wasn’t smart. 

    1. I agree – the question is if the travel agent failed to properly inform her client or the client insisted she wanted the cheapest ticket available.

  14. It seems more and more people who are given powers to have people arrested under federal law and quickly exercising them. The mere fact that a US Airways employee threatened a customer with arrest and a “trumped” up charge of “interfering with a crew member”, for a slight case of being offended seems to be a more commonplace trend. The only way to STOP this behavior, is to SUE and SUE HARD. The airline was complicit in allowing the behavior. The employee was CLEARLY using inflated charges under federal regulations, to “Punish” the poor woman for her transgression of using an “f” word.

    This sounds more and more like the case of the “breast twister”…she was accused of assaulting a TSA agent, and listen to them say it, like she walked up and grabbed and twisted. In reality, this woman was rushed at very close quarters by several TSA blue shirts, and she’s like “get away” from me….a fact the DA clearly recognized. The TSA agent inflated the charge to get the person tossed in JAIL immediately (for defiance), just like the US Airways employee.

    I would ensure that flight attendant is also PERSONALLY named to that lawsuit, make her sweat, for her callous behavior.

    I will remember this next time I have to fly.

    1. Well if you just act like a reasonable decent person, you won’t have to worry about this. The client, on the other hand, got mad for what was essentially her own fault (not knowing the conditions and fees behind her ticket – this could be the travel agent’s fault) and then swearing at a the flight crew.

        1. Funny you should say that, Carver, considering how you defend TSA and how anybody who gets mistreated by them obviously had it coming.

        2. Even if it as overreaction by the flight crew, bottom line is that if she acted decent, none of this would have happened.

          Yes, you can go to court over basically whatever you want in this country. But when you’re in court saying “I told the FA to f**k off then … happened” it’s hard to sound completely innocent and reasonable.

  15. This is a case where I would love to hear US Air’s side…

    Simply dropping an F bomb isn’t grounds for arrest (if that’s all she really did). Even if she was detained coming off the plane, I think it would take more for her to actually be charged. Having said that, her conduct was uncalled for.

    Here’s my summary of what happened:
    1. She had to fly at the last minute so her TA found her an inexpensive highly restrictive ticket.
    2. She had to change the highly restrictive ticket and pay a large change fee.
    3. She didn’t get her meal choice (umm its happened to me flying in the front of the bus) that she ordered at the last minute.
    4. An airline charged her for drinks
    5. She received poor service from an airline
    6. She dropped an F bomb
    7. The airline threatened to have her arrested for interference (which includes assault). Which apparently worked to de-escalate her behavior since he didn’t get arrested.

    To me, there isn’t anything rare or obscene about this case other than her behavior. Its airline (especially reading this blog its seems US AIR) MO. If she had just kept her mouth shut, there’s a chance that the airline would have relooked at her change fees due to the extenuating circumstances. After her stunt in the air, I think she’ll be lucky if she doesn’t get one of those letters the Southwest used to send to “special” customers (ie “We were happy to hear that you will be choosing another air carrier for your future travels”).


    I presume that the passenger wanted to fly to FRA asap so the TA (Ernst) went for a BULK fare that did not have an advance purchase restriction since it was cheaper than the Published Fare that also did not have that restriction.

    For the current HIGH season travel (no advance purchase requirement), the lowest BASE (before tax) PUBLISHED fare for PHL-FRA $1057 (Fare Code: HKWQDNE6). The lowest BULK fare (before tax AND ANY MARKUP MADE BY AGENT) is approximately $810. Therefore the agent was saving the passenger about $200 (after markup by agent).

    It cost the passenger about $1236 in change penalties and fare difference to come home on a different date. If you add that $1236 to $810, the total BASE FARE (before tax) would have been $2046.

    Now compare that to the BASE fare of an ECONOMY UNRESTRICTED ticket. The cheapest I can find for USAir is $2579:

    * ADD APPLICABLE TAX * FED INSP FEES *                        
    097-FARE BASIS         USD       NUC                PTC  FT  GI
    BBWEDRE0        R   2579.00   2579.00               ADT  NL  AT

    Therefore, despite paying the reissue fee and fare difference, the passenger still saved ($2579 minus $2046) about $500 doing the change AFTER THE TICKET WAS BOUGHT.

    So what is the passenger complaining about?

  17. I have had a few problems with US Airways in the past and will never fly with them again. while flying from Burlington VT to DC’s National airport I didn’t hear the captain “mumble” about not using the toilet. When I returned from my seat the flight attendant became verbally abusive. I was humiliated.
    As far as the client’s problem is concerned, I agree with her in full. Losing your mother is traumatic enough, and to add insult to injury by hitting her with an extremely high change fee would be enough to put any passenger over the top. Airlines usually either waive or lower change fees with a death certificate is provided by the passenger. I worked for British Airways for over 20 years and we would never treat a passenger in such a manner.
    This was a disgraceful way in which to treat a customer, regardless of her dropping the “F” bomb. She was exhausted and was already going through enough trauma.
    Christopher, I feel strongly that you should go to bat for this woman. She has been through enough already, and the least she can get from US Airways is an apology.  

    1. Except she had a CONSOLIDATOR fare which is highly restrictive. Also, I don’t care what “traumatic” experience she had; it’s no excuse for bad, vulgar behavior. 

  18. This traveler have a bad temper . A relative decease is an excuse.
    In my mind she would treat other service personnel the same way, in bereavement or not, on airlines or anywhere else.
    No employee in our civilized country must subjected to hostile work environment (And I advocate for it).
    Keep your dignity in hard time, that’s make you different than the rest.
    When my mother passed away in Geneva, I bought a deep discount ticket to Geneva for 2 days only, the American Airlines checking see I travel only for 24hrs at destination and ask why the trip is short, I answered for my mother funeral. He upgraded me on Business Class. Keep your coolness and courtesy and aware that other have hard times too. Don’t be self-centered.

  19. Being a boss of several employees, I know exactly what the modus operandi of this princesszilla manipulator:
    – want people treat them like a princess, with some reason and justification
    – want special treatment (not aware of other member in their same group)
    – bitching and swearing in the air (not have the gut to do it directly to other)
    – if caught in default – CRYING – WHINING – APPEALING to PITY  and FORGIVENESS
    But believe me, they don’t regret a bit, they never change, the will repeat the next time, all of this, sub-conscientiously.
    The best remedy is IGNORE THEM, the less change they repeat with you because it’s unsuccessful with you. May be the will repeat it with other.

  20. The fees and fares are not the fault nor responsibility fo the flight crew.  That is the contract between passenger and airline.
    If you get a bargain fare – there must be restrictions attached – which should have been disclosed by the travel agent. 
    If you are too distraught to act in a civil manner, maybe medication is the answer.  I sympathize with the passenger’s loss, but there is no reason to take it out on the flight crew and fellow passengers.
    Sounds like a ticketing agent may have been doing someone a slight favor, but also applying the fare rules established by the industry.
    Sorry – case closed.

  21. No matter what is going on with your life, you have to keep cool if you are flying.  Period.  Nothing is tolerated these days.  Especially if you are on United.  They are very quick to get you off the plane or write you up.  Flying is a serious matter these days.  It’s really hard being in a situation with no power, but the best thing you can do if you have to fly is suck it up.

  22. I see the primary wrongdoer here as being the travel agent. If she could have issued a changeable ticket for an extra $500, this would have saved the passenger that much larger amount of fines and fees when she had to unexpectedly reschedule the return. Furthermore, a TA should be aware that funeral trips can easily run longer than planned due to estate issues, and advised the passenger accordingly.

    But the passenger shares some blame too for popping off inflight over the kind of meal she was issued. Nobody expects airline food to be ambrosia.

    1. The problem is, like all difficult clients, they want to pay the least expensive fare but don’t even think they need to reschedule the return. I can guess the TA was aware of that and asked but the traveler always want the cheapest fare and deny any need of change until they really need to do it. The customer can even recant what they say in their advantage. I am in Customer Service Business, I had tone of customers like that.

    2. Alan,
      I think the $500 difference mentioned by the OP is the difference between a BULK (consolidator) fare and a PUBLISHED fare with NO ADVANCE PURCHASE restriction.
      As I said in my previous post an UNRESTRICTED (changeable without penalty) will cost at least $2579 before tax! I assume that the passenger (PAX) did not want to pay more than $3K (all-in) for that UNRESTRICTED ticket.
      It seems clear to me BOTH the TA and the PAX took their chances and went for the cheaper BULK fare ticket. It is also clear to me that upon finding out what it will cost to change the return flight date, they also took another chance by showing up at the check-in counter and doing the change there. These people knew what they were doing! They both knew there would be a fine involved!
      Now here is the kicker – if the PAX was holding BULK fare tickets, then technically she could only change the date of her return trip on a flight that had seats open for the same booking class. However, I think the desk agent in Frankfurt probably mistook her ticket as a PUBLISHED Fare ticket and allowed her to change to (what is possibly) a different booking class on a different date. This is only my guess since German agents are not accustomed to seeing USAir BULK FAREs FROM EUROPE so they must have thought the ticket was a PUBLISHED fare ticket.

      Finally, someone above posted – why not just buy another ticket from Frankfurt? Well, if you check the cost of a one-way ticket from FRA to PHL on either USAir or Lufthansa, it is upwards of $3780. I don’t think it will be easier or less expensive to buy a throw-away roundtrip ticket either.

      Bottom line, both the travel agent and the passenger tried to GAME the system. In the end, the passenger had to pay. Sorry.

      1. You can get a t/r ticket for less than $1000 with one week notice, and this is in the peak of the holiday season. 

        1. Exactly as you said – one week advanced purchase needed for discounted PUBLISHED fares.
          But the passenger wanted to fly immediately.
          That’s a different story. Please check your fares.

          1. The article does not state this specifically, but I assume the client wanted to extend her stay, not return to the US ahead of time; “…she tried to change her ticket coming home, since she had to settle her estate”, and “…it would cost somewhere between $1,300 and $1,500 to change her ticket to a week later.” Then (when?) the client went to the airport where the ticket agent could do it for €876 ($1250ish). Hence, if the client wanted to extend her stay with one week, she could have bought a new return ticket in Germany for less than the change fee.

          2. Anna, I see you point. Suppose she still had 7 days in Frankfurt before her planned (new) return date to Philly. She can’t save money buying a one-way ticket because that would cost a whopping $3762.30! So she has to *cheat* the system by buying
            a throw-away round trip ticket on USAir and hopefully not get caught by USAir since she will probably be a no show already for the return flight on the first ticket. The cost of the cheapest roundtrip ticket on USAir from FRA to PHL (and back) is $1418.10. See the cheapest Fare Basis Code (7 day advance purchase) below:

            * SURCHARGE APPLIED *
            TICKET     BASE EUR       EV USD   TX/FEE USD       TKT TTL USD
             ADT01       908.00      1281.00       137.10           1418.10
            *TTL         908.00      1281.00       137.10           1418.10
            *AS BOOKED
            FBC ADT QHWEDNW1

            So under your suggestion she will spend another $1418 and risk losing the whole ticket if the airline finds out what she is up to. Paying the ~$1240 fare difference and change fee is actually cheaper and cleaner.

          3. Who says the new ticket has to be on USAirways? United is just over $1000 for a seven day advance with a throwaway return. (Assuming PHL is the final destination and not just the connecting point.)

          4. DavidS, I’d like to check your numbers.
            Here is a Fare Display for FRA-PHL on UA for travel 7 days from now:

            FRAPHL-UA 25JUL11
            NBR  CODE   OW    EUR   EFF    DISC  FST/LST  NBR DT    MAX CDE
             1  THNCDEW  R  650.00  1JUL1   –       –     400 ##  6/12M T 
             2  SHNCDEW  R  710.00  1JUL1   –       –     400 ##  6/12M S 
             3  WHRCDEW  R  790.00  1JUL1   –       –     400 ##  6/12M W 
             4  VHRCDEW  R  870.00  1JUL1   –       –     400 ##  6/12M V 
             5  QHRCDEW  R  990.00  1JUL1   –       –     400 ##  6/12M Q 

            The lowest Fare Basis Code is THNCDEW.

            Now look for available T class seats from FRA to PHL on UA.
            The earliest will be on 3AUG (10 days from now).
            Now go ahead and create a round-trip itinerary on T class and then PRICE IT.

            TICKET     BASE EUR       EV USD   TX/FEE USD       TKT TTL USD
             ADT01       650.00       917.00       461.50           1378.50
            *TTL         650.00       917.00       461.50           1378.50
            *AS BOOKED
            FBC ADT THNCDEW

            Look it costs $1378.50. Not the $1200 you are talking about. Bottom line, it was cheaper to pay the fine and do it right.

          5. I used a 4 AUG dept date as you did in your response to Anna. Maybe that has something to do with it. My main point was it really didn’t have to be USAirways again.

            We still don’t know if the client was going to PHL as a final destination or as a connecting city. It may be more expensive (or cheaper) to another destination.

          6. I used an Aug 2nd date and found (several) €1000 tickets. And I wonder, if can find a €1000 ticket in less than 30 seconds, what kind of deal can a savvy travel agent get you!? 

          7. Tony,

            Whoops, you’re right about FRA-PHL tickets starting from $1400 next week. (Note to self; double-check the currency sign). So, yes, if she were stranded in Germany right now it would be cheaper to eat the outrageous change fee.

            Anyway, sometimes a new ticket is a cheaper alternative which is why I brought it up – it sounds like it was never even considered. Plus, I believe the thing with “getting caught” is a non-issue if the new ticket is bought after the missed return flight? (And a complete non-issue if she’d travelled home with, say, Lufthansa).

          8. Anna, Lufthansa is definitely a *NICER* airline. At least they have this emergency provision (that US Air does *not* have). US Air does not care if your close relative died (unless they die while accompanying you) when it comes to changing your flight.

            LUFTHANSA CHANGES                                                     
                ANY TIME                                                  
                  CHARGE USD 250.00 FOR REISSUE/REVALIDATION.             
                     NOTE –                                               
                      A.  EMERGENCY PROVISION                             
                        TICKET MAY BE USED TOWARD THE PURCHASE OF         
                        ANOTHER TICKET IF DUE TO AN EMERGENCY OF          
                        PASSENGER / IMMEDIATE FAMILY MEMBER OR            
                        TRAVELING COMPANION.                              
                        DOCUMENTATION REQUIRED.                           

          9. Tony, it seems like a Lufthansa ticket would have been a better option, even though it was not the cheapest ticket – initially…

            And that again makes me wonder; did the travel agent do her job properly, did she explain all the varying terms and conditions to her client – or did the client just not listen?

          10. Let’s get real here. In a situation like this (when the passenger’s Mom is dying), your job as a travel agent is to get your customer to their destination ASAP. I suppose that Christina Ernst had to overcome the 7 day advance purchase restrictions that came with deeply discounted Published fares so she ended going with a BULK fare often offered through “consolidators”. It should be obvious Christina was doing this to save the passenger money.

            If we overlook the F-bomb incident and simply concentrate on the flight change fee issue, the only question was whether the EUR700 (~$1000) fare difference was unreasonable and not the standard reissue fee (approx $250, which almost all airlines charge). Since the $1000 constitutes one-half of a round-trip basis, then the return trip would have had a FARE BASE of $2000 more than the original’s. In my experience with European fares a $2000 jump would mean you are booking at Y or near Y class.

            If I was her travel agent, I would have looked at my GDS and searched for seat availability at the lower priced booking classes. Perhaps I could recommend a cheaper date to come back home. In my case, that’s 1 minute work. But then again, we don’t know the passenger’s emotional state at that time so we cannot blame Christina.

            Finally one more thing to realize – when a travel agent uses a consolidator, the travel agent loses control of the PNR and the ticket since it is the consolidator who actually does the ticketing. If you want to make changes, you need to do it through the consolidator and the consolidator will charge another change fee above that of the airline. You (as the travel agent) cannot do much yourself. That’s why you will often hear – “just go to the airport counter and make the change there”. It actually is simpler to make changes at the airport especially if you are armed with the information (like the cheapest date to travel).

  23. When it comes down to it, I think the travel agent is trying to save face. The client was already emotional and got upset and now wants compensation. The agent is looking for someone with more pull (Chris) to keep her client happy and reputation intact.

    Leave it alone, let the agent clean up her own mess.

  24. I also had to make a transatlantic flight between the U.S. and Germany when my mother died and if I had been treated like this after burying my mother, I would have certainly dropped the F-bomb too (and I never use any swear words).  
      Please let us know how this turns out.

  25. I agree that dropping the f-bomb is inappropriate, but it is not
    interfering with a crew member.  I have many friends who are flight
    attendants on US Airways, and they have stories about the rudeness of
    customers – dropping the f-bomb and more.  They have handled them with aplomb and tact, and dissipated the issue with diplomacy. Never did they acted like a tyrannical child and threatened and arranged for an arrest.
    Would it have been interfering with a crew member if the client had said “What the hell is wrong with you people?” or “What in God’s name is wrong with you people?”  They are both swears, but I think that we would have thought that the flight attendant was completely off his or her rocker if he or she slapped the client with a Notice of Federal
    Regulation Violation. No one should have to deal with the f-bomb, but I
    feel that this attendant overreacted (as did the client.)

    The client gave the attendant her mea culpa, and the attendant, per the client’s report, still treated her rudely.    No one is going to say that flight attendants have an easy job.  They are charged with implementing policies that weren’t of their creation, and being a good costumer service reps – representing their airline’s brand.  Again, I do feel that the attendant was abusing his or her authority, ridiculously overreacted.

    So I think that the US Airways fees should be challenged outside of the incident on the plane.

  26. It’s been my observation that the FA’s, if they get against you for any reason whatsoever, have all the cards. No one will believe you, they know it, and they take advantage of it.

  27. If it had been a pasty, overly-entitled salesman who dropped the F-bomb instead of a woman who’d lost her mother, this wouldn’t even have been a post—and if it had, the poll would be the other way.

    As for the fees, which is the point of the article, the fare was restricted. Policies differ on different flights—I’ve had free wi-fi and I’ve had to pay for it (talk about first-world problems there), I’ve had free entertainment and I’ve had to pay for it, and I’ve had free food and had to pay for it, all within single roundtrips.

    The issue is between Ms Ernst and her client. US Airways could have done better customer service-wise (please, enough with the “flight attendants as undeputized law enforcement” idea), but the fees aren’t their problem as they would have been available for the travel agent to see at the time she booked the passenger’s travel.

  28. Geez, Louise! This poor woman had already been through enough. I can’t believe US Airways was so demanding and insensitive. I can also tell you that I have been on flights between the US and Germany. The German flight attendants were not all that friendly to begin with. She was already set up for a rough ride home. So, she dropped the F-bomb. Given her stress level, big deal? Her travel agent hasn’t really done all that much to help her and earn her commission. Yes, Chris. Please advocate for her!

  29. I think the flight crew helped contribute to the situation.  She said they were charging fees for headphones/drinks, which was unexpected.  They did not have a meal for her, which could be an oversight, but how graciously did they handle it?   I’ve seen too many flight attendants who are all surly and have an attitude from the word go –  under the right circumstances I can see how this would set someone off. 

    Was the passenger rude?  Yes.  I’m guessing the flight crew was as well.

  30. as a former FA I can’t believe any FA upset over the f bomb. But I have food allergies, and I always order a special meal. Often, they don’t have them for me. it happens. take your own food.

  31. I vote for helping her, as the airline clearly made no effort at accommodating here with some bereavement fare.  I do not agree on #3, that a consolidator fare on USAirways was a “lure.”  It was an unsold seat offered to a consolidator to unload.  You know these fares are available only on certain days with large blocks of unsold inventory. 

    Still, the airline could have done far more for her, and indeed her passenger record could have had special remarks about her mother dying, since she showed the death certificate at the ticket counter.

    Sounds like USAirways was terribly inconsiderate and inept in handling a sensitive situation. 

  32. I think the issue is less about the F-bomb (that was resolved on board the plane) and more about the excessive difference in fare and change fee in light of the death of the customer’s mother.  If you go to bat for the customer, do so with regard to the fare difference and fee imposed on the customer in spite of proof of bereavement.

  33. Chris,

    “the airline was trying to bilk me for more than a thousand bucks” How did the airline cheat? She bought a consolidator fare, which should have been explained are VERY restricitive.

    What was the difference in fare between a fare that allowed changes and what the client paid?

    Do any airlines offer bereavement fares on the route that was being flown? From past experience these are usually less restrictive and allow changes to the return. It may have been more than what she paid but less than a no penalty type of fare.

    Could she have bought a ticket on another carrier for less? Was that option explored?

    Special meals need to be ordered 24 hours in advance, the client stated she ordered it 3 hours in advance. Was she told it was confirmed or requested?

    I sense a bias on your part for the client, but I am voting yes because I would be interested in knowing if USAir has a record of an incident on the flight.

    1. Airlines seldom, if ever, have bereavement fares on international routes, for a lot of different reasons, and that’s if they have bereavement fares at all anymore.  I know that they used to waive the advanced purchase on certain types of international fares, provided substantiating information was available at the time of booking, fare code was available, and all other restrictions of the fare were met, including seasonality (can’t use a low season fare for travel in June).  They also had to be booked directly with the airline.  I don’t know if that’s the case anymore.  I can’t remember if they could only be used for actual bereavements, or if they could be used for “imminent death” – it’s been a long time since I looked at anything like that.
      The types of bereavement fares you’re talking about are for domestic travel only.  I don’t know if any of those are still around, either.

      1. It has been a long time since I needed one and that was for domestic travel.

        I just looked at 2 airlines website, Delta and Continental, and they do offer compassion/bereavment fares/discounts. I didn’t look too closely into them…but they are there and are valid for international travel.

  34. Rule number one, and this is the rule I always follow is “don’t fly US Airways”.  If people would follow this rule, their travel lives would be a lot better.

    True, the passenger should not have used the “f” word.  Three hours prior to flight is generally not enough time to get a special meal.  There are enough people sick and dying around the world, and enough people flying to deal with it, that this gets you no special treatment.

    However, it looks like she did not even get “normal” treatment.  Free food and drink are pretty standard on overseas flights still.  If not, it should be written in the guide in the airline’s magazine.  This information is easily verifiable.

    This “interfering with the crew” and “subject to arrest” thing seems to be abused too much.  There should be penalties for airline employees who abuse it.  There should be a supervisor aboard the plane who can deal with such things.

    Something tells me the client was a total pain in the butt.  The FA’s have nothing to do with fare paid, nothing at all, and she probably took that baggage with her onboard.

  35. Agreed that the TA did the woman no favors with this ticket, and yes, it seems now the TA wants Chris’ assistance with making her case with the airline.  The TA is trying to save face with the client, and is using Chris as her “plan B”, in case the airline isn’t buying what she’s selling.  And the TA IS SUPPOSED to be selling SERVICE, which it seems she is only willing to provide at a reduced amount (consolidator fare ticket & asking Chris for help).  It is a shame that you, Chris, would have to get involved, but it does sound like the woman was under a severe amount of stress, mouthed off to a FA who was having a bad day, and received punishments she hardly deserved, both from the FA AND her TA.  It’s a toss-up whether you take it, but I would marginally vote yes.

  36. I don’t care how angry you are or how bad of a day you are having, you should never treat someone that is there to help you badly.

  37. I don’t know much about purchasing tickets at the last minute, but would it have been cheaper for the TA to look for a new fare (perhaps another consolidated fare?) for the woman to fly home?  

    $1000 to change a fare seems crazy.

    1. It depends on what is available.  If you purchased a very inexpensive ticket in advance, and only want to change it during a busy summer travel season when flights are mostly full, the only available fare categories are very high.  So while the fee to make a change is like $200-400 depending on the fare, the reason the total is so high is the fare difference between the original discounted booking and the higher booking codes available at the time of the change. 

  38. FWIW, US Airways was the airline in the only case I’ve personally observed of an FA using this type of tactic as an intimidation strategy in lieu of addressing a complaint.

    US Airways was also in the news recently for summoning police to arrest a grieving passenger who was wearing his pants too low (exposing his boxers, not skin)  Prosecutors dismissed the charges.

    That’s not to say these cases are all related.  But this is by far the airline I am least surprised to see accused of abusing authority in this way.

  39. i wholeheartedly voted NO. 

    is saying the F-word alone interfering with the crew? no. if it was the only rude thing the passenger said, it doesn’t warrant the Notice. but i seriously doubt that was all that happened.

    USAir didn’t “lure” her nor “bilk” her.  they charged her the fare that she and the TA chose.  did the TA try to reason with her, and note that changing the ticket would be costly? did the passenger insist she wanted the lowest-fare, no matter what? did the TA never inform her of the restrictions? one of these has to be true, and none of them is USAirways’ fault.

    as for the 2nd luggage fee—DUH. the headphones? puh-leeeze.  the drinks–does USAir really charge for water? or is she talking alcohol here? i know they experimented 3 years ago with charging for juice, water & soft drinks, but that was dropped. in any case, boo-hoo.

    the meal issue is a non-issue. she requested it (note that it’s a request, not a guarantee), they were unable to provide it. it may add insult to her perceived injury, but it doesn’t need to be here.

    then the F-bomb. i get that she was at her breaking point, and she took it out on the person who most recently upset her. it’s a reason, not an excuse. but to then claim that she was “dehydrated” from crying? she’s losing credibility fast.

    the kicker is when the TA says the client “really just wants them to work with her on fees”.  A-HA.  *now* we’re getting to the crux of the complaint. 
    this laundry list had almost nothing to do with service, it’s all about how she didn’t like having to pay money to change her ticket. well, them’s the breaks. while it would be “nice” of USAir to waive fees in these cases, they are not obligated to.
    please don’t get involved.

    1. The “dehydrated from crying” phrase has bothered me all day.  When I posted earlier, I said that f— isn’t the first word I’d use when upset or angry.  I meant that this probably wasn’t the first nasty thing that this passenger had done or said. 

      Even if the FAs wouldn’t serve the passenger, why didn’t a sympathetic seatmate help out?  I know *I* would offer my water to someone in that situation and it strikes me that most people would do the same.  My suspicion is that this passenger lost the sympathy of her seatmates.

      I am still sorry for the loss of her mother, but you’re right; this all does seem to be a laundry list rooted in her thinking that she paid more money than she thought she should pay.

  40. Based upon my past experience (only one; NEVER AGAIN!!) with USAir, I would have to side with any passenger in any dispute!

  41. I was really on the fence with this one.  Without the use of the f-word, absolutely, you should help her.  But once that came into play, the events following seem really hard to make right.  I would’ve had a hard time holding my tongue, but I think once you go down that road and choose speaking your mind so freely- you’re on your own.

    US Airways totally overreacted based on what I’ve read here.  I’ll remember to think twice about them.

  42. What an awful example of how horrible the flying experience has become. It’s such a nightmare to fly anymore, under any circumstances.  Even though I’m boycotting flying (along with 1000s of others), I know there may come a time when I have no choice but to fly. The thought gives me extreme anxiety.  Naked scanner or touched intimately? Awful customer service and to complain is to be threatened.  What if I look at an agent or attendant in a way they perceive “insulting”?  Will I be arrested and fined? What innocent statement on my part will have me singled out to be bullied and threatened? Oh my, the list goes on and on.  You know, I should have made this a game, 20 questions with: Guess the year and regime/country the questions are referring to……could be several answers but USA doesn’t come directly to mind.

  43. Please remember that someone at work has a completely different obligation to be polite and professional than a customer or client. If someone can’t respond professionally to whomever his clients are, he is unfit for the job and should be removed. That you or I personally wouldn’t swear at an FA or cashier isn’t relevant at all.

    I’ve dealt with angry customers and occasional epithets in an earlier job – and part of my job was staying polite and professional in all situations. It’s really not that hard, especially if that’s the culture of your organization.The Flight Crew failed the minute one of them was rude about a meal someone at in their organization told her she could have. If the FA had been apologetic or sympathetic – her JOB, that she gets PAID for, remember? –  this never would have happened. When the FA reaped the reward of failing a customer and heard something that offended her delicate little ears, it was her job to be professional and de-escalate the situation or at the very least walk away. Instead she – and her crew – escalated the situation and behaved like security goons. A complete and total FAIL.I do hope you get involved. I don’t know if anything can be done about highway-robbery fees unless regulators gets involved, but maybe if airlines are embarrassed publicly and forced to spend time and money dealing with customers who have been badly treated, they’ll remind their flight attendants to behave professionally and make flights a little less horrendous. 

  44. Yes, FA’s invoking the “interfering with flight crew” to punish anyone and everyone they disagree with, no matter how large or small the “infraction”, is just despicable. If someone assaults a FA or attempts to break into the flight deck, they should face the consequences, but briefly swearing at a flight attendant who is rude in the first place? That is just retaliation by the FA.

  45. This is complicated, because the fees are entirely separate from the hassle on the plane. I don’t think the f-bomb constitutes interfering, but the meal issue could have been avoided. (If you wait until 3 hours beforehand to request a meal, can it be that huge a surprise when it’s not there?) She was having a terrible time, but it seems like she let a couple very minor issues push her over the edge–can’t say I can completely blame her, but it’s not the crew’s fault she had ticket problems and had a family tragedy. 

    But it seems like the travel agent really goofed and then had nothing useful to offer in terms of help. Was there no way to get her to Germany immediately that didn’t carry such severe penalties if the itinerary needed to be changed, which wasn’t that unforeseen a possibility?  And telling the lady the options were to pay the highway robbery change fees or go to the airport hoping for better (by my math, that hassle only ended up saving her something like $50) isn’t really the sort of help I’d hope for out of a travel agent. There was nothing else the agent could offer to take some of the pressure off this poor woman? 

  46. 1. It is interfering with the crew with no doubt – she escalated the problem by literally threatening the flight attendants, which somehow interfering the air safety.

    2. Like Maritime law, the U.S. Government has jurisdiction on all U.S.-bound flight and all U.S. registered aircrafts. One example is United 895/896 – Hong Kong to Singapore – all procedures are still under the federal law.

    3. It is just the way of the game – she could have buy a full-fare to avoid any troubles for rebooking.

  47. There are several posters who, as professional TAs, can address the merits and demerits of fares and ticketing much better than I can.  Their opinions will provide reasons for a decision to mediate or not.  In regard to the on board interactions, however, I would like to make the following   observations:

    1. The majority of airlines operating from Europe have an additional charge for the second piece of luggage.  Some airlines enforce this policy assiduously while others often turn a blind eye.  I do not see that asking the pax to pay was “adding insult to injury.”

    2.  Should there be an expectation that a special meal ordered three hours in advance would be available? I don’t think so and the FA saying that there were no vegetarian meals available should not have elicited the abusive response from the pax.

    3.  Many people are emphasizing the impropriety of using the “F” word.  Please consider that the phrase “you people” is just as or more bound to cause offence.  The use of that phrase showed hostility and denigrated all US Air employees and despite her frustration, it should not have been used.   (This is a phrase that I will NEVER use again as it got me into hot water once.  I was using it in the kindest, gentlest way (sounds self-serving, I know) to  encourage a group of individuals to follow my directions.  My audience complained and I was sent for counselling with a psychologist who helped me to understand why using the phrase was harmful.  I am now hyper-sensitive to its use.)
    4.  If true, there was absolutely no excuse and there can be no forgiveness or understanding for the FA to have thrown the sandwich at the pax.  It was uncivil, unprofessional and crude.  As a representative of the airline, the FA should have taken the higher ground.  He/she did the org. no favours even though their client had been disrespectful.  

    5.  Headphones/earbuds – They are free in first-class, but some airlines offer them free in economy as well.  I always travel with a couple of them in my purse.  Even though the ones on board come wrapped in plastic, I am not sure that they are sanitary and prefer to use my own.  I have never been told not to use them. 

    Finally, we must accept that ANY display of hostility, anger or rage on board, justifed or not, will not be tolerated.  Bite your tongue, bite your lip, take a pill, or do whatever you have to do, but do not spout off or act out.  The flight crew have no way of knowing how far the hostility will go.  In order to contain the situation and to prevent any escalation, they have to take the matter seriously and trust that threats of arrest will be enough to quell the person.  They are ultimately responsible for the safety of all and rather than being criticized for overreacting, in my view, they acted reasonably and responsibly.

    Having been an eyewitness to an incident of air rage, I know how threatening and frightening it becomes to all on board – all the result of two men fighting about raising the backrest of the chair during a meal!

  48. Flight attendant is the job they’ve chosen, it is not
    something they have been sentenced to. It is a flight attendant and not a
    princess, know how to work with people in any situation, because sometimes we
    get emotional, frustrated, sick for whatever reason. F*** you is not a threat
    and not a reason to treat a person as a prisoner. There is always extra
    vegetarian meals in the first class, if your company screed it up, you can say
    I am sorry we’re out of vegetarian meal, but let me see if I can find something
    for you. I think US Airways needs to extend apologies to the passenger and
    charges can be filed against the flight crew for a false imprisonment and
    denial of basic necessities like drinking water. And I think also the crew
    needs to be disciplined and go through additional training.
    As of the change fees, I think they should be refunded, because any ticket gives flexibility in case of death of family member and even not, it would be a right thing to do for a company.

    1. Any ticket does not give flexibility in case of death of a family member…that was the beginning of the problem.

      She did not give the airline 24 hours notice to guarantee her special meal request, no screw up.

  49. Aviation rules and regulations are not what WE think they should be, but rather what our legislators have deemed them to be.  While I can only address what pertains under Canadian law on Canadian registered aircraft, I am almost certain that the U.S. law does have similar regulations.

    Under Canada’s Aeronautics Act, Aviation Rules and Regulations, at the lower levels of the scale disorderly conduct includes harassment, verbal/physical abuse, intimidation and refusal to comply with instructions from a crew member.   None of these behaviours will be tolerated aboard the aircraft.  If any are observed, the flight crew may decide to divert the aircraft, if deemed necessary, and the person involved may be arrested, detained and tried when the aircraft lands, or once they have returned to their point of origin.

    The offensive phrase used on this occasion fits the description of a Level 1 incident “the use of unacceptable language toward a crew member.”   In civilian life these words may seem to be qutie innocuous to some people, but that crew member considered it to be verbal abuse and that was all that they needed for action to be taken.

    Commercial airlines have been charged by regulators with developing policies and providing training for their personnel concerning the actions to be taken at each level of “interference with a crew member.”  We should consider that the crew on board this flight might not have acted arbitrarily, but rather they could have been implementing their employer’s policies as they were trained to do.

    My previous advice about “chilling out” while on board still stands. 



  50. Her mother died.  Who cares?  Everyone’s mother dies at some point.  You want the world to bend over backwards because life hits you?!?!?  Come on.

    1. I’m guessing you’re the person who also posted that she is an “entitled Anerican”  who just needs a “dope slap”.

    2. Yes, everyone’s mother dies. But not in the past week. Are you saying that people who have just experienced a tremendous loss should not be treated with a little extra kindness, if possible?

      Apparently it’s becoming a rarity, but for many years, airlines would offer reduced fares for: last-minute tickets to attend funerals; ticket changes resulting from the death of a near relative; serious illness on the part of a ticket holder; and other circumstances, on a case-by-case basis, that involved a ticket-holder being unable to travel on the reserved date through no fault of their own.

      It was the flip side to the times when the airlines had weather or mechanical delays. We all mutually agreed to cut each other a little slack when the unforeseen/unavoidable happened.

      But now the airlines take no responsibility for their own unforeseen/unavoidable situations, but insist on cashing in when their customer have unforeseen/unavoidable situations of their own.

  51. I do everything possible to avoid USAirways. The last time I flew them was from Los Angeles to Orlando on a first class reward ticket to attend a funeral. I thought the service and the attitude of the staff was terrible.

  52. Hello,
    free speech?  She didn’t threaten, she didn’t hit anyone. She lost her
    cool, but dealing with airlines will definitely do that to a person. In what
    way is speaking rudely “interfering?” If the attendant wants to
    refuse service from then on, fine. But arrest? That’s just a person with a
    power trip.


    Why didn’t have the
    special meal she was offered at check in? Did they apologize? Why doesn’t failure to provide the promised meal constitute THEM
    “interfering” with HER?
    And seriously, she’s bawling and they won’t give her a glass of
    water for hours? There’s the milk of human kindness for ya.

    1. They didn’t have the special meal because she did not request it in time to guarantee it…it was just that…a request.

      1. OR … they offered her a choice of meals, and she picked one, and then they didn’t have it.

        The story above isn’t specific about it, but her outburst makes a lot more sense in my context. She’s not a raging b***, just someone who is receiving unrelenting carelessness and callousness. After getting charged $1200+ for a flight change  — after showing a mother’s death certificate — the unapologetic failure to deliver a meal that *they* offered *me* would probably make me say exactly what she did, quite possibly even worse. And under the circumstances of this scenario, I would have perhaps apologized for one word, but nothing else. And if arrested, I’m 100% sure I would not be charged with a crime, much less convicted.

        1. Unlikely. Asian vegetarian is a special meal requring 24 hours notice. A standard vegetarian is usually an option on board. All this info is available on USAirways website.

          More likely she asked at the counter, was told it was on request but not guaranteed.

          I am beginning to think the bereavement fare concept is pointless. These are a throwback to the day when there was one, expensive, last minute fare…like $2000 one way cross country. These were only bought by business travlers on expense accounts. The airlines offered a discounted fare for these purposes to appear more compassionate.

          Since deregulation, as fare structures and competition have made air travel more affordable, is a walkup ticket really that out of line on most routes? New York to LAX is less than $400 one way for a ticket tomorrow.

          Why demand a discount from an airline? If I need to attend a funeral, do I get a discount on my black suit? Flowers? Casket for the deceased? Parking at the airport? Motels? Meals while traveling? (Granted…a motel may offer a discount for out of town guests, but that is to get the group business.)

          The client bought a highly restictive ticket…not even sold by USAirways. The question is the reasoning behind this, knowing there may have been a possibility of changing it.

    2. Special meals requires a longer time to request. This again sounds like the counter tried to pacify her and let the next airline moron handle the fallout.

  53. I am surprised US Airways doesn’t have bereavement fares. But if they don’t, there isn’t much one can do about it and you have to accept that a last-minute change is going to cost you. I do think it is appalling that they would have someone arrested for cursing, as this does not at all come under the heading of “interfering” with a crew member. If they ever do that to someone else I hope they get the pants sued off them for false arrest.

  54. A question out of ignorance:

    If the “US claims jurisdiction over all US-registered aircraft” as originally posted by johnb78, then doesn’t this also mean that US laws should apply, including that little first-amendment one about freedom of speech?  And if it does apply, then how can any language short of a threat of physical harm to person or plane be grounds for arrest?

    I understand that stupid use of language has its limitations (like the fact that it’s stupid, and in some places illegal, to yell “fire” in a crowded theater), but this incident seems to call to light this question for me and I’d love to hear back from someone with credible/legitimate constitutional law background on it.

  55. Let’s address the airline ticket 1st.
    1.The travel agent stated that she purchased a “consolidator ticket” and saved $500.00.
    2. There are rules that are beyond USAIR’s rules when buying a consolidator ticket. They require special booking classes that are unique to themselves and USAIR’s revenue team.
    3. Generally there is a $250.00 change penalty and you simply have to book the new ticket in the same class of service to get the fare. We do it all of the time. The catch to this is that it must be in a specific class of service to change the flight.
    4. The client should have contacted Christina Earnst to contact the consolidator to change the ticket. In USAIR’s defense, they had no idea in hell (oops, did I drop the H-word, sorry USAIR.) what that ticket fare basis was, so they exchanged it against a full “Y” fare. I looked it up and would have done the same were I behind the USAIR counter.
    Sorry, no money back – mis-handled in the end by the customer.

    Not to the attack of the Attendent
    5. Cussing in a public area – not cool. Cussing in a public area to an airline employeee in today’s world – bad. The attendant threatening the passenger with starvation, dehydration, and jail and seriously throng a sandwich at the passenger? – instant dismissal, hand her from the highest beer stein! The F-bomb is not a threat until attatched with a statement like I’ll F#[email protected]% kill you. Shame on USAIR for intimidation tactics. Fly the foriegn  guys, they are nicer.

  56. There are NO “confidentiality laws” any of the airlines operate under. I am so fed up with the way airlines and their employees treat passengers. I am a million mile flier with AA and I no longer ask for preferred treatment, I beg that they treat me at least as well as prison guards treat inmates. 

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