When I was thrown off a United Airlines flight for taking a picture of my seat, many were quick to attack — blaming me for being over-entitled and concluding that I was wrong to even question the FA’s confusion over in-flight photography. Such attacks were unfounded, but at the same time I could appreciate why they were made. A woman in New York was thrown off a flight before takeoff in Seattle for rudely flouting FA instructions concerning onboard seat exchanges. My first reaction was to condemn the woman…but we should be careful to jump to conclusions.
Watch the video here or below.
Jean Mamakos was on her way to a ski trip and saw several rows of open seats in the Economy Plus cabin while she was wedged into a full row behind the exit row. United offers up to five extra inches of legroom in the forward economy class cabin, offering those seats free of charge to elite members and for a fee to others. Perhaps in ignorance to that arrangement, she moved up and plopped herself down in an open row after the boarding door had closed, where she was quickly interdicted by a FA who called out, “Oh no you don’t!”.
She retreated back but instead of going back to her own seat, she sat down in an open exit row, which was empty. Another FA informed her that this would be considered a seat upgrade and she could remain in the seat if she paid the $109 upgrade fee. One passenger reported the passenger allegedly responded, “Make me” when informed she had to vacate the seat.
What is unclear is what the tone of the conversation was like — whether Mamakos was combative and nasty or just confused and tired. In any case, she eventually returned to her seat and thought the matter was over…until the Captain announced, “There is a lady that wants to get off the plane on this flight, so we have to wait.”
The aircraft door re-opened and three police officers boarded and asked Mamakos to follow them out. She refused and was dragged off the plane, ripping her jeans. Because she resisted arrest, she was fingerprinted, booked (for resisting arrest and “trespassing” on UA), and placed in jail where she sat over a weekend because the courts were closed. She is now suing United for $5mn.
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My first reaction is that this a typical Brookyln jerk who tried to steal a seat that did not belong to her and she got what she deserved. But we should be careful before jumping to that conclusion…for I also tend to think, based on my own incident, that United overreacted.
I mean, I still fly over 100K per year and see a garden variety of jerks onboard flights on a regular basis — from the nasty 40ish business traveler in the cheap sport coat trying to flout his gold status to the young parents who think they are entitled to pre-boarding and premium economy seating because they have a screaming brat in tow. FAs surely see more than I do and for the sake of tranquility, PR, and because the bark is almost always worse than the bite, it seems clear to me that “special” passengers who kick and scream should be pacified in a way that falls short of throwing them off. I have pity on the FAs who have to deal with passengers like Mamakos, but she is not a particular anomaly – there must be a better way to cajole her into submission then taking the easy path by dumping her.
Her lawsuit is laughable…suing United $5mn because Washington State courts are closed on weekends? Good luck with that. Emotional distress? Unlikely. The fact that she had to be dragged off the plane was her own choice…I considered refusing to disembark in my situation, but knew I would have just inconvenienced the others on the plane and lost my solid argument that I obeyed crew-member instructions at all times.
But I am disappointed again in United…throwing off a passenger should truly be a last resort and if the woman retreated back to her seat in defeat, there was no need to throw her off. If she acted up mid-flight, just let her occupy one of the open rows and have her arrested upon landing.