Last week, children’s book author Robert Sayegh was removed from a flight for using the ‘F-word‘. The incident took place on a commuter flight operated on behalf of Delta airlines when, after a wait on the tarmac, passengers were told that a problem with the overhead containers was the cause of the delay.
Like I think it would many of us, this news further exasperated an already tired Sayegh who then swore using the ‘F-word’ which, according to his own account, was said to himself and not directed towards anyone. A nearby flight attendant took offense however, and he was soon led off the plane by police.
This isn’t the only case of a passenger being removed forcibly off a flight due to his behavior. Lately it seems that a few times a week there are stories of mid-air arguments, fist fights and general bedlam taking place in the newly minted cranky skies.
But surely short tempers and ego driven tirades can’t be a new phenomenon, but the reactions to these issues are. What’s caused this rash of unplanned detours causing middle aged businessmen to be expelled from multiple flights?
First, I fully realize that the airlines, pilots really, have full authority to do whatever they want on their planes, and I think that’s entirely appropriate. The laws crafted to grant this exceptional authority were based on experience and knowledge, and I respect that. Specifically, these powers come from two main sources:
49 U.S.C. § 44902 : US Code – Section 44902: Refusal to transport passengers and property – This gives the carrier the right to refuse to transport a passenger or property the carrier decides is, or might be, inimical to safety. Further, 14 CFR 121.533 gives the pilot the complete authority over his aircraft and determines the pilot alone is responsible for everything on it.
While innocuous, combined these bits of law give the modern pilot as much power as a captain aboard an 18th century tall ship. As I’ve said, I don’t have a problem with this power, if used wisely, but that phrase in 49 U.S.C. is very disturbing, “or might be,” because that alone gives the pilot the ability to act as irrationally as he/she would like, without fear of reprisal.
How can it be said what someone may or may not do? Yes, someone who is obviously a danger to others most likely will escalate, but what about poor Mr. Sayegh? How could anyone think that the use of a curse word would, eventually, threaten the life and safety of those onboard?
I know the airline will hide behind their protections, but from someone without firsthand knowledge of the situation, it appears to me that this is a case of a slightly cranky flier, a very cranky flight attendant and an abuse of power. I wonder what the flight attendant told the pilot in order to get the passenger thrown off?
I recognize that there are jerks everywhere and sometimes they can become violent jerks, but if we start throwing people off for every slight infraction of decency or politeness, planes will start looking pretty empty.
What do you think? Was the airline right in kicking this guy off the plane, or have did they overreact?