Flying the Cranky Skies – Have the Airlines Gone Too Far?

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?

By: Matt Long

Matt has a true passion for travel. As someone who has a bad case of the travel bug, Matt travels the world in order to share tips on where to go, what to see and how to experience the best the world has to offer.

7 thoughts on “Flying the Cranky Skies – Have the Airlines Gone Too Far?”

  1. Sounds like an overreaction to me. Not unlike the baggy-pants guy getting thrown off the plane. I mean, really? Asking someone to change how they are dressed in order to board a plane? Since when is that cool?

    I agree that the skies have become a hell of a lot crankier lately — and it’s not just the passengers who are at fault.

  2. This is crazy!! I don’t think pilots should be able to kick anybody off the plane for foul language… that seems a little overkill to me. Guess I better start watching my language though :(

  3. This is verging on outrageous. I can see if this man was a belligerent drunk and was swearing up a storm, then maybe he poses a danger to the safety and comfort of other pax.

    However, after having a similar experience on Delta Connection, where after 10,530 miles of traveling and being awake for 36+ hours, my flight home to Baltimore was delayed by almost 2.5 hours. The staff weren’t all that helpful, and I got frustrated, and there were a few times where in my head I swore at them.

    I think this was a total overreaction on Delta’s part. Sure, if he got up in the F/As face and started swearing AT HER, then that’s a different story. But using a profanity to describe a frustrating situation shouldn’t label you a criminal.

  4. While I agree with 14 CFR 121.533, which gives the captain “complete authority over his aircraft and determines the pilot alone is responsible for everything on it,” I also believe that many end up using it unwisely and inadvisedly. Did these captains make bad decisions? Maybe. But… remember, we don’t really have all of the information from the media that the crews used to make these decisions. We pilots are locked up in the cockpit from before pushback until block-in at the arrival gate now, and are not permitted to leave it unless necessary for physiological reasons (gotta pee). We must then necessarily rely upon info from the flight attendants in the cabin.

    Finally, it’s my strong opinion that the reason we have the completely unnecessary “3-hour Tarmac Rule” is because of a handful of captains who were too afraid to exercise their authority. Most of us would never have allowed our passengers to be held hostage for hours. It’s just not the right thing to do.

  5. The airlines have gone too far. It’s the fault of the uninvolved public. The business traveler has known for a long time that the airlines have gone too far. They remember when it was better, they’ve seen their so called frequent flier benefits go out the window. They’ve watched as the airlines cut services, added fees, and under pay their pilots for years. And, it takes someone getting kicked off a plane for cursing, or baggy pants, to wonder, “have they gone too far?” Hell Yes!! They’ve been going to far. If your pilot (the guy responsible for your safety at 30,000+ feet) qualifies for food stamps, there’s a problem. Maybe he was extra cranky when he kicked the guy off of the plane, because he’s wondering how he’s going to pay his rent.

    The whole airline industry is a joke. But, what is a traveler to do? We’re hooked on planes. ARGH!!!!

  6. Delta’s conduct is abusive and very, very irritating. This is the result of deregulation and letting the airlines do as they want – which in turn is minimal-to-no customer service and maximum greed. Greed designs seats that are too narrow and rows too close; and a legal carte blanch that lets the airlines screw the passenger without consequence. It is capitalism at its worst.

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