Why won’t US Airways take responsibility for drunken passengers?

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By Christopher Elliott

A few weeks ago we had the case of a nearly-sober passenger who was threatened with expulsion from an Allegiant Air flight. Today we must consider the opposite problem: several passengers who were not only allowed to fly while intoxicated, but encouraged to drink more.

It happened to Dianne Vernon and her brother on a recent US Airways redeye flight from San Francisco to Charlotte.

“We were about four rows from the back of the plane,” she remembers. “There were three very loud and drunk passengers sitting in the row one up from us, toward the front of the plane.”

The passengers were obviously inebriated, but they were not done imbibing. And the flight attendants seemed only too happy to serve them.

“I noted that other nearby passengers asked if there were other seats on the plane available because these people were so loud,” she says.”None were available, as it was a fully booked flight.”

The passengers carried on loudly while the rest of the passengers tried to sleep. They turned on their reading lights. They were basically unruly, and in Vernon’s opinion, the flight attendants didn’t make the situation any better by serving them more alcohol.

About an hour and a half before we landed I saw these people order still another drink from a steward and I heard that steward ask the head steward if he should fill their order.

I heard the steward in charge say go ahead, but this would be their last round; they had each had five drinks already.

So their orders of hard liquor were filled once more. After those drinks were consumed, they finally got quiet but then starting heading toward the lavatories.

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The drunken men had extended bathroom visits

But the ordeal didn’t end there. Each of the men were in the bathroom between 20 and 30 minutes. (What the heck were they doing in there?)

To add to the drama, the one woman, who could hardly stand up and her eyes truly looked fixed and dilated, went into the lav to see if her husband was OK and the head steward had to yell, “One person at a time in the lavatories, one person at a time…”

Vernon adds, “It was a fiasco, a nightmare.”

She contacted me after writing to a US Airways executive and hearing nothing back. I recommended that she send a brief, polite email through its website. Still nothing. So I gave her the names of some executives. That generated the following response:

I’m sorry to hear your flight was unpleasant due to the actions of some other passengers. I can understand your frustration with the situation. However, we cannot take responsibility for the actions of another passenger.

Unintentional things can and do happen during flights, and it’s unfortunate that your flight was not what you expected.

“Unintentional things”? I wouldn’t call serving a group of already-drunken passengers five more beverages each to be unintentional. But, hey, at least they responded. (Related: Never yell “Woohoo! Vegas!” before you board an Allegiant flight.)

That’s not enough for Vernon. (Here’s our guide on what an airline owes you if it denies you boarding.)

“I would like a total refund on the fares for that flight for my brother and myself,” she says. “We were flying on an emergency basis to get to an elderly aunt in Fort Myers, Florida. She was hanging on by a thread and we were certainly stressed enough without having to endure this.”

I’m not sure if I can procure a refund for Vernon and her brother, but I’m not entirely happy with the form letter US Airways sent.

Should I mediate Dianne Vernon's case?

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can't. He's the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes three nationally syndicated columns. He also publishes the Elliott Report, a news site for consumers, and Elliott Confidential, a critically acclaimed newsletter about customer service. If you have a consumer problem you can't solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on X, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter.

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