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"Unfriendly skies may swell this summer"


 
Sunday, May 7, 2006

Unfriendly skies may swell this summer
Airlines quick to guard employees from fliers they deem abusive
BY TONY MECIA
The Charlotte (NC) Observer


So just what does it take to get kicked off an airplane these days?

It might be easier than you think.

We all know passengers shouldn't threaten to blow up a plane or get in a
fight -- those are clear no-nos. But even simpler actions -- such as cursing
or talking back to a flight attendant -- have gotten passengers removed from
planes before takeoff.

There could be more such run-ins this summer. Passengers might be on edge
from jamming aboard planes that are more filled than usual. Airline
employees, many of whom have had their pay slashed in recent years, could be
more on edge while dealing with a record number of travelers.

Garnett Gamble, 63, said he was "totally shocked and taken aback" last month
when Charlotte/Douglas airport police escorted him from a US Airways Express
flight bound for Birmingham, Ala. After boarding, the Reston, Va., real
estate agent says he flagged down the flight attendant to tell her the
captain's pre-flight announcements were too loud.

The woman told him the announcement had to be loud so passengers could hear.

"I just kinda lost it and I said, `It's too damn loud!' " Gamble recalled in
a recent interview. "She said, `Sir, get your things, you're going to leave
the airplane.' "

He says the flight attendant seemed "nasty from the beginning" and that he
considers his removal an "abuse of power." The airline rebooked him on a
later flight.

US Airways spokesman Phil Gee said he has no information on Gamble's
incident but said the flight crew is authorized to remove passengers they
consider to be abusive or disruptive.

"One thing we don't ever want to condone is the abuse of our employees," he
said. "We're going to back our employees if our customers are being abusive
to them."

He said the airline typically tries to put an ejected passenger on a later
flight "if it wasn't too big of an incident."

In theory, unruly passengers can face hefty civil fines and criminal
prosecution. In reality, though, they're rarely fined or prosecuted.

Arrests of unruly passengers often make headlines, but most times when
passengers are removed from flights, they are not arrested. If disagreements
happen while the flight is airborne, police are sometimes called upon the
flight's arrival and they might briefly detain the passenger or take a
report.

There are no solid statistics on the number of unruly passengers. Charlotte
airport officials say that almost every day airport police are called to
deal with disruptive travelers. But last year police made only 20 arrests in
those instances.

Nationally, the Federal Aviation Administration took action against 303
passengers in 2004, the latest full year available.

An Observer review of two months' worth of Charlotte/Douglas International
Airport incident reports last year offers more examples of what it takes to
get thrown off a flight.

In one incident, on Sept. 26, an 18-year-old from Florida was taken off a US
Airways Express flight after telling a flight attendant, "Get out of my
face." She had been repeatedly telling him to stow his carry-on bag, the
report says. The airline put the man on a later flight.

On Sept. 23, a 58-year-old Charlotte man was taken off a United Airlines
flight to Chicago after making an undisclosed "inappropriate remark" to a
female flight attendant. He also "proceeded to brush up against her chest
with his arm," the report says. United put him on a later American Airlines
flight.

David Stempler, president of the Air Travelers Association, says the best
advice is to simply follow the commands of the flight crew, because after
the 9-11 attacks, they don't tolerate misbehavior.

He figures many of the problems stem from frustrated passengers who wait in
line after line to make it on board a cramped plane. And some of them are
drunk.

"Everyone's a little cranky to begin with," he said. "You add alcohol to the
mix, it can be an explosive mixture."

Disturbances in the Air

Culled from two months' of incident reports from Charlotte/Douglas
International Airport last year, here are some examples of misbehavior on
airplanes (edited for clarity and length): 

AUG. 31, 7:05 P.M. -- NONCOMPLIANT:

Officer responded to a report of a disturbance aboard US Airways flight from
the Dominican Republic. Flight attendant stated that the disturbance
involved a passenger being noncompliant with her instructions. The
passenger, a 40-year-old New Jersey man, had gone to the lavatory in the
first-class section when he wasn't authorized to do so. After telling the
passenger several times not to use that lavatory and to return to his seat
in coach, the passenger seated himself in the first-class section.

AUG. 28, 3:17 P.M. -- INTERFERENCE:

Officer responded to Gate E16 to a report of a disturbance on an inbound
flight. The flight attendant stated he was pushing the beverage cart down
the aisle when the suspect, a 36-year-old Illinois woman, stopped him and
requested a cup of water. The flight attendant gave her a cup of water, and
the woman began complaining that the water was not cold enough. The woman
began yelling and cursing at him, scaring him and interfering with his
duties.

AUG. 11, 4:20 P.M. -- INTOXICATED:

Officers responded to Gate D6 to a report of a disturbance aboard an inbound
US Airways aircraft. The flight attendant stated that during the last hour
of a flight from Belize, the suspect kept moving around the aircraft and
would not fasten his seat belt. The officer spoke with the suspect, a
52-year-old Massachusetts man, who stated he did not remember too much of
the flight and could not remember being told to sit down or fasten his seat
belt. The officer smelled the very strong odor of alcohol on his breath and
body. Misbehavin' in Charlotte

Sept. 16, 7:18 p.m. -- Irate: Officer responded to a report of an irate man
on board an aircraft at Gate E16. The gate manager stated that the
passenger, a 42-year-old Minnesota man, became irate when the aircraft had
to return to the gate because of a mechanical problem. When the flight
attendant began making the announcement of the delay, the passenger got out
of his seat and demanded to know "What the hell was going on." He was then
asked to leave the aircraft because of his continuous cursing.


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