Commotion, Consensus, Confusion, and Cops: The story of my IAD-JFK United Express Flight

No matter how much you fly, there are always some days that make you step back and say “wow.” Well, for me that was yesterday. As I posted about, I took a bump (voluntarily) on my IAD to JFK flight because it was weight restricted. There were two other people that were involuntarily denied boarding. One of them was initially denied boarding, and he proceeded to cuss out the gate agent, explaining that the gate agent was the only person he could let his anger out on, and that the gate agent shouldn’t take it personally.

The other passenger that got involuntarily denied boarding had an even worse situation. He was confirmed on the flight and didn’t initially have a seat assignment, but the agent cleared him onto the flight. They closed the door once he was aboard, and ten minutes later the plane returned to the gate because they needed to offload a passenger. The guy came off, and I was surprised that he seemed to take the situation in stride.

Fast forward an hour to the next IAD to JFK flight. All three of us that got denied boarding on the last flight were seated next to each other in the exit row. We started talking, and as it turned out the guy that got denied boarding after being given a seat was a GLOBAL SERVICES MEMBER! That’s right, United involuntarily denied boarding to a Global Services passenger. I was amazed, but he was a really nice guy and fun to talk to. The other guy that was involuntarily denied boarding was a Premier. The gate agent just did a crappy job handling the situation, since he didn’t once ask for volunteers over the PA (he did once yell that he needed volunteers, but that’s it).

We pushed back on-time, only to taxi to the “penalty box” (where bad planes go), where the engines were shut down. I had a tight connection, so I knew I would misconnect at JFK. This was a Mesa flight, so I always have low standards, but the flight attendant was actually pretty good. The captain announced that our ground hold would be about 30 minutes, and several passengers started yelling.

After 30 minutes the captain announced it would be another 45 minutes. After waiting for around an hour the flight attendant started walking through the cabin asking if passengers wanted to return to the gate. I’d say about 25% said yes, while the other 75% didn’t respond (which I assume means no), given they had international connections out of JFK. The flight attendant was trying to form consensus, which just strikes me as stupid since everyone is trying to go to different places.

Anyway, after a while the flight attendant came around yet again asking if we wanted to return to the gate if it would take more than 30 minutes more to leave (beyond the current ground hold of over an hour). At this point the plane was about 50/50, and the flight attendant was visibly stressed, because she wanted consensus and (obviously) wasn’t getting it. The issue is that if we returned to the gate, there would be yet another ground hold and we would have lost our slot for those continuing on.

Seated two rows behind me, by the way, was a guy that was yapping on his cell phone the whole time about suing the TSA. He was an older gentleman. He told the flight attendant that the pilots needed to talk to operations and get us a straight answer as to how much longer it would be (which isn’t always that easy) so we could decide what to do.

After a few more minutes the captain made an announcement saying we got a takeoff slot and will be leaving in the next five minutes. Applause erupted throughout the cabin.

There was some private talk between the pilots and the flight attendant, and the captain eventually came on the PA and said we gave up our takeoff slot because it seemed like people wanted to get off, so we would return to the gate.

At this point people were furious and started yelling, anything from “What the f___?” to “You’re a stupid b____.” The older gentleman seated a couple of rows behind me got especially angry and chewed out the flight attendant, saying something like “first you wanna build fu__ing consensus, then you change your mind. You’re stupid. You know, what you’re doing is illegal.” He goes on and on. Actually, sir, what you’re doing (assaulting a flight attendant) is illegal.

We start taxiing back to the gate, and this passenger got up, retrieved his bags, and started walking towards the front of the plane as we’re still on an active taxiway.

We get back to the gate, where we were met by several police officers that promptly took this guy off the plane. The captain walked onto the tarmac to talk to the cops, and we weren’t allowed to deplane in the meantime. The whole situation was utter chaos, especially since half of the passengers didn’t speak a word of English.

Getting rebooked was just as much of an adventure, given that everything was sold out….

Remind me please, why do I like flying? Typically I find mileage runs to be relaxing, since they allow me to get “disconnected,” but yesterday was about as stressful of a flying day as I’ve ever had.

Filed Under: Mileage Runs, Travel
  1. You like flying because these are the wonderful moments that make it memorable. Stressful, yes, but, in retrospect brilliant, meaningful, and there exists no better way to learn about the limits of humanity’s emotion when trapped in an RJ in a ground hold.

  2. Very strange things seem to be happening.

    1) Why bump a Premier & a GS pax off of a flight versus non status pax, that makes the most sense. Hell, bumping a GS pax is insane. WHY!

    2) Sounds like the Mesa FA screwed things up to say the least. Why tell the captain to go back to the gate just when they have been released?

  3. @ Gray — Very true, but as the day kept getting worse and worse, I was near the point of just saying “f___ it, I’m going home.” Of course I did come to my senses, and in retrospect it was quite the day.

    @ Chris — The Premier and Global Services passengers were the two without assigned seats, so I guess the gate agent found it easiest to bump them. The Global Services had just booked a ticket that morning, so probably had the most expensive ticket aboard!

    As far as going to the gate goes, I think it was a series of miscommunications between the flight attendant and the pilots (and the flight attendant just trying too hard).

  4. Since you sat next to the IDBs, did you get to ask them how they were compensated? I’m always curious whether United hands over the cash to IDBs, especially when the pax might not know the rules.

  5. I saw as they were both IDB’ed, and they each received a free ticket voucher, which is the same as a VDB.

  6. Hmmm… was is a choice by the passengers? If not, that’s the wrong compensation, correct? Do you ever have the urge to chime in at tinmes like that?

  7. That’s what they were offered. Technically they could be offered a certain percentage of their ticket price back, but I’m not sure how that’s calculated. Oftentimes it will be less than the value of a free ticket, though, so I don’t typically mention anything ot them.

    I have once witnessed a passenger being IDB’ed and they weren’t offered a free ticket or any other form of compensation. In that case I spoke up.

  8. Wait a minute: you claim you have a tight connection but get your self voluntarily bumped? Doesn’t make any sense to me!

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