Kicked off the plane for having a few pre-flight drinks

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By Christopher Elliott

Before Mike Murray was kicked off the plane, he waited with his two nephews and cousin in the first-class lounge to board his United Airlines flight from San Francisco to Washington. He says he consumed three gin and tonics in two hours.

And why wouldn’t he? The drinks in the lounge are included in your membership, and it’s almost a six-hour flight. Nothing like a G&T or two to make you fall asleep, right?

That’s exactly what happened to Murray, who’d given up 40,000 miles and $1,200 for his upgrade to first class. It wasn’t the only thing he would give up that day.

A tap on his shoulder — and then hew was kicked off the flight

After Murray fell asleep shortly before takeoff, he felt a tap on his shoulder.

“A flight attendant asked if she could speak to me outside of the plane,” he remembers. “I disembarked the plane and the flight attendant told me that the captain did not want me to fly on the plane as I was ‘intoxicated.’ I asked her what I had done wrong and she stated nothing but that I was intoxicated.”

Murray didn’t protest. He asked what would become of the three other family members flying with him.

“About five minutes later they were told that the captain did not feel comfortable with them flying either and they were then ejected from the plane,” he says.

We’ve dealt with passenger expulsions before, but kicking the entire family off the plane — that seems like a crossed line. (Related: Removed from a Delta flight — but it doesn’t know why.)

Here’s where things get interesting

All four were rebooked on the next flight, which was uneventful. But on their connecting flight to London, their trip was interrupted again.

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“A little more than halfway through the flight there was a medical emergency on the plane,” he says. “I gave up my seat so a woman could sit next to her husband, who was in bad shape and was put into first class. The flight crew did not ask me to do this, but being a firefighter, I knew what bad shape he happened to be in.”

Is this right?

Something about the experience didn’t sit well with Murray. For starters, why serve all that alcohol in the lounge if it won’t be tolerated on the plane? Besides, one of the first things that happens when when you board a flight in first class is that they offer you a drink.

I suspect one of the flight attendants got bent out of shape because Murray dozed off during the in-flight safety announcements, but I don’t know — I wasn’t there.

Murray felt United owed him something for the trouble. So he asked. Here’s what it had to say:

In speaking with Rossi Thomas, the Director of Customer Service here at SFO, he has authorized me to offer you $100 in travel credits, which I have attached. The terms and conditions are also attached. You will need the promotion code as well as the PIN to book a flight using the certificate.

While we’d like to extend our sincere apology for the frustration you have expressed with being asked to deboard our aircraft and take a later flight, please understand that our team is making their best judgment call in an effort to follow FAA regulations. We do not compensate for those types of inconveniences.

We are, however, offering you this goodwill gesture as a thank-you for giving up your seat to the woman whose husband was sick onboard your flight to LHR. In these circumstances, the flight attendants generally have a voucher they can offer onboard, but it doesn’t appear one was given to you. For that, I apologize.

That seems like a fairly sincere apology. But wait! Murray didn’t spend $100 to upgrade to first class; he’d spent 12 times as much, plus another 40,000 miles. That’s a lot of flying on United.

Murray wants my advocacy team to consider asking United Airlines for more compensation. A $100 voucher looks like funny airline math to me, but I have to say, I like the apology. Also, I think United should take a little responsibility for the open bar at SFO. Kicking a sleeping passenger, plus his traveling companions, off a plane seems a little extreme, doesn’t it?

(Update: On appeal, United raised its offer to a $300 voucher.)

Should I mediate Mike Murray's case with United?

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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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