The Ultimate Flight Attendant Power Trip

Filed Under: Media, Virgin America

As I’ve written about time and time again, airline employees have been given so much latitude to remove passengers from flights in the name of “safety.” We’ve seen countless instances of passengers being removed from planes over non-events.

It seems many gate agents and flight attendants don’t understand that there’s a difference between them not liking someone, and someone posing a threat towards a flight. If someone doesn’t pose a threat towards a flight, there’s no reason they should be removed. Ironically when a crew member poses a threat to the flight they’re not removed, though.

This week we have what’s possibly the best example ever of a flight attendant on a power trip… and the airline even admits it!


Via The New York Times:

A prominent Texas lawyer was not allowed to board a Virgin America flight home from New York on Monday because of an encounter with a crew member at La Guardia Airport in Queens, he and the airline said.

The lawyer, Robert B. Abtahi, the vice chairman of the Dallas Plan Commission, the official body that makes planning and zoning recommendations to the City Council, said he was trying to board Virgin America Flight 885 to Dallas before its scheduled departure at 3:50 p.m., when he was told that he would not be allowed onto the plane.

Mr. Abtahi, who goes by “Bobby,” said the reason he was given was that the captain and crew did not feel comfortable with him on the flight. When he pressed for specifics, a gate agent told him that he had cut off a crew member in a revolving door while arriving at the airport, he said. He was forced to cancel the ticket and rebook on another airline.

What was the “incident” which made the captain feel uncomfortable with him on the flight?

Mr. Abtahi said that the incident, reported online on Monday evening by The Dallas Morning News, happened in one of the airport’s revolving doors when a woman got behind him in the same stall. In response to a reporter’s inquiry, he wrote on Twitter that they “both fumbled to get in,” and he “didn’t know she was crew.”

Virgin America even backs his claim, saying that it was a “misunderstanding,” and that the incident unfolded as the passenger described:

Virgin America said in a statement sent by email that airline officials had reviewed the incident and believed it was “the result of a misunderstanding.” David Arnold, a spokesman, said the airline was reaching out to apologize to Mr. Abtahi for his experience, and added that it was his understanding that it had unfolded as Mr. Abtahi described.

Much like the passenger, I totally agree that something has to be done to control airline employees on power trips:

Mr. Abtahi said he wanted the airline to tighten policies giving flight crew members broad discretion to decide whether to allow a passenger on board. “We have all these regulations around flying and safety, and that seems the most subjective one,” he said. “I have PreCheck and Global Entry and I’m not acting crazy; I haven’t been drinking. I’m just standing.”

Bottom line

I don’t think examples get more straightforward than this. An airline employee and passenger had a run-in which didn’t involve the airline and which posed no risk towards the flight whatsoever. Still, the passenger was removed from the flight in the name of safety. The airline even backs the passenger’s side of the story. I hope the flight attendant and pilot are disciplined.

Something needs to be done about this, as airline employee power trips seem to constantly be on the rise. At least they’re getting lots of media attention nowadays, which will hopefully cause the airlines to act.

  1. And kudos to the passenger who declined two free travel vouchers as compensation and directed the airline to donate them to charity instead.

  2. I’m not sure the pilot should be disciplined because, presumably, he/she was action on whatever information the FA provided (an who knows what story he/she was told?).

    As far as the FA goes, however, I’d like to see her fired. Zero excuse for escalating a personal issue with a pax into a situation where pax is denied boarding. It’s unprofessional, an abhorrent abuse of power and petty beyond belief.

  3. It is odd because the airlines virtually always state that the passenger did something vague to give the FA cause for alarm. I am wondering if Virgin would have been as magnanimous toward the passenger had he not been the vice chair of the Dallas Plan Commission?

  4. The flight attendant should be fired immediately. Flight attendants are there primarily for the safety of passengers, they will be the first to remind everyone of that. Anyone who can turn a brief interaction at a curbside revolving door into a security risk should absolutely not be entrusted with the safety of 100+ passengers. This person is psychologically unfit to fulfill this responsibility.

  5. The flight attendant concerned who escalated this beyond reason should be dismissed immediately. I hope she never finds gainful employment in a similar capacity as she is a threat to the travelling public. Can you imagine if this happened to say your grandparents or someone who is a novice at flying, or if English is not their first language, or if they didn’t have the means to purchase alternative travel?

  6. Let’s start with a law that guarantees everyone the right to shoot video everywhere but in a toilet. No more ambiguous nonsense about “no video at TSA checkpoints” or “no video onboard” or whatever. No employee privacy, no Union pushback. You’re being watched. I’m being watched. Every FA is being watched. The airport terminal is being watched. Everyone can video everything, all the time.

    Now, back to our earlier topic: people behaving badly and claiming later that they weren’t….

  7. Simple solution: fire the FA.

    Funny that he happened to be a lawyer: the airline must be crapping themselves at this point 😀

  8. Yes, the flight attendant should be fired. I have to wonder if she broke the law by making a false report of a security threat.
    Flight attendants simply should not have the authority to ban anyone from a flight. Congress or the FAA should make that clear. Who should? Probably the TSA, flawed as that entity is.

  9. Security cameras, if any, would clear things up nicely. Yes, it seems like removing a passenger for cutting in front of an FA is completely outrageous, but that’s only because none of us were there. Maybe he collided with the FA or perhaps he pushed hard on the door so that it ended up bumping her. These are things that happen when impatient people try to rush through revolving doors. It’s a stretch, but not that much of one, to think that he might push and shove his way past others while boarding or even in case of an emergency.

  10. I am with @YYZgayguy. If the TSA and flight attendants could be recorded, this nonsense would end almost overnight. A rule was created with the intent of preventing terrorists from documenting security procedures, and a small subset of the TSA and FA’s have used this as a way to regularly abuse customers without accountability. I have not witnessed any FA denying boarding but I have watched flight attendants deliberately escalate verbal misunderstandings twice in the past two months (once on AS and once on AA). One incident was over a simple question about placing a jacket in the closet. In both cases the passengers fortunately had the self control and maturity to disengage as quickly as possible, but the FA’s were clearly looking for a fight and an opportunity to demonstrate the powers that they’re been given.

  11. The Flight Attendant isn’t there to pamper; (s)he is there for the safety and security of the passengers (s)he chooses.

  12. I do not believe the fact that he is a layer scared anyone at the airline. Read the airlines Contract of Carriage. It restricts your rights to “NONE”.
    However, what likely concerned them is that he is the “Vice chairman of the Dallas Plan Commission”. The last thing they want is a politician, likely with influence, to have them in his sights!!!
    I’m not alleging he would do a thing. He’s likely a highly ethical person. I’m saying the airline likely has a self interest in keeping the pace with Dallas politicians.

  13. This airline employee attitude is rampant with US carriers. I’ve listened in horror as ticketing agents, gate agents and flight crew exchange tips on torture inflicted on the customers who pay their salaries. OTOH, employees of European and Canadian carriers were equally aghast at exploits commonly tolerated at US airlines. It will take more than a token firing to change the culture that excuses this lousy behavior.

  14. I find it extraordinarily hard to believe that there aren’t security cameras installed over the main entrances to an airport terminal in this day and age. I think we can assume it’s a given. Certainly a record exists of what did, or did not occur. Sadly, the truth is rarely relevant in today’s media fueled court of public opinion where cases are tried via social media. We’ll never know what did or did not occur at DFW, and it won’t makes sand bit of difference, as all you “experts” have already decided the fates of all involved.

  15. Some fairly ignorant comments here….

    FAs are there first and foremost for your safety. Yes, they bring you drinks and sometimes food, but that is by no means their primary purpose.

    Saying they shouldn’t have the authority to remove a passenger from a flight is insane. When you’re aboard an aircraft, you follow the rules that the crew is there to enforce. In the air, or anywhere in the plane for that matter, they have the final say. It’s like that for a reason, that reason being the safe completion of the flight.

    Should this FA get in trouble? Yes. Do FAs act in the interest of safety 99.9% of the time, whether or not the traveling public (that is usually very ignorant of FAA regulation and why things are the way they are) recognizes that? Yes.

  16. I’m actually going to digress from the majority here. All workers have the right to a non-hostile workplace and if she genuinely and legitimately believed that the presence of that specific passenger in her workplace contributed towards hostility, she has the right to have him removed.

    I’ve been faced with a similar situation in the past where the ex-husband of one of the FAs at my airline was booked on a flight. They had just gone through a nasty custody battle and there were a number of lingering issues on both sides. That they wound up on the same flight was pure coincidence, but she basically said that she could not discharge her duties properly knowing that he was on board (and I had to make the judgement call that her representation was accurate). Given the choice of removing her from the flight at an outstation without reserve crew available (and hence delaying the entire 150+ passenger load), or removing him from the flight with a polite explanation and compensation, we chose to do the latter. He was not happy, but he understood why it might be an issue and accepted our offer of rebooking with upgrade for the next day, plus a voucher for future use.

    These cases are not always open and shut or black and white. Sometimes an airline has to take a decision that they would prefer not to simply because the circumstances as presented do not lend themselves to a more equitable outcome for all stakeholders, not just the ones directly involved. But then again, that’s true of most things in life.

  17. @Sean M: “All workers have the right to a non-hostile workplace ”

    Bullshit. You won’t find that in the Bill of Rights anywhere.

    You’re paid to do a job. You’re either capable of it or not capable of it. Working with the general public means you’ll be expected to work with assholes at some point, if not daily. If you’re not capable of dealing with these people, then you’re in the wrong job. We all have bad days, but a professional is able to keep their own emotions in-check long enough to get through it without affecting their performance.

    If this was an isolated case, maybe I’d have more sympathy, BUT there’ve been an increasing number of abuses of power by FAs and others which shows this needs to be brought under control.

  18. Strongly agree with AlexS above. Re: Sean M “she basically said that she could not discharge her duties properly,” she needs to get over it. The ex- is either a threat to commit physical violence (in which case she should get a restraining order), or she needs to do her job. I appreciate weighing the cost to the ex- versus the other pax, but that’s a second- vs. third-best solution. Best solution is “do your job or you’re fired” which should resolve the problem immediately.

  19. Some of these crew members are NQR for sure. This only seems to happen in the US of A. I’ve dealt with some prima donna crew in my time and that’s just the menbut nothing like this. Aussie and American culture is totally different for sure. Give me the former anyday. Aussie Aussie Aussie, OI OI OI.✈️

  20. Yes, the FA should be fired for getting back at the man in such an extreme manner but why did he “struggle” with her in a revolving door? Why didn’t the presumed “gentleman” just let her go first? Because men using their greater strength, height and speed to outdo women has become the new normal.

  21. @Sean M: Nice one. Sober sounding nonsense, followed by red herring. Let’s leave the warring spouses scenario to one side, shall we, since it’s not analogous here?

    In this situation we have 2 people who had some kind of altercation in a public area of the airport. We don’t know who the one villain is, if any. You say that your staff “has a right” to absence of hostility and that her “belief” is the bar.

    The arrangement you describe is “open to abuse”. Which is the very topic we’re discussing here, and in other posts Lucky has posted before. Abuse by FAs and others is on the rise and that’s the problem we’re discussing.

    @Sean M I would go so far as to say that in your defence of the status quo you’ve actually highlighted the problem vividly. You do not offer any assurance that you have a protocol in place to deal with a staffmember who abuses his/her discretion. It appears to me that there is a class of people given robust latitude to exercise authority, with no commensurate scrutiny or checks and balances.

    I’m onside with those who worry about bully FAs, gate agents, others, especially but not exclusively in USA, Canada, UK. I think Canada is the worst, but I would, wouldn’t I?

  22. As an airline Captain I gotta say, nobody gets removed for this sort of thing. Way too much 3rd hand info to make that sort of decision. No gate agent is going to say “ cut off a Crewmember coming into the airport”. They’ll bring in a supervisor to work the problem. That all being said, I see too many passengers with an enhanced sense of entitlement. Airline crews work around it because we know how much anxiety there is in today’s flying and full flights. From every airline employee’s perspective, there is a certain amount of tolerance but at some point the Captain makes a decision and says enough. I’ve seen it both ways; when the FA wants a passenger off and I overrule the FA and also when I go back and decide the passenger is just too disruptive to continue. Nobody wants to remove a passenger; it’s our business to get people from point A to point B. Certainly there’s been some egregious behavior by crews (eg. this week’s American FA), but this incident happen as described. Take a moment and just be nice…it’ll go a long way during the holidays.

  23. Jeanne, you say that “men using their greater strength, height and speed to outdo women has become the new normal”. I wonder how many of the female commenters here believe that. I certainly do not. I notice quite the opposite. 99% of men LIKE women, and treat them with courtesy. I have noticed a slight decrease, in my lifetime, of courtesy on the part of women. If you hold a door for a lady, or step back to let her go ahead of you, most say “thank you”, which is what a lady does. Nowadays unfortunately, a surprising number do not.
    Jeanne, you did not see that “struggle”, did you? You are passing judgment on this man without really knowing what took place and who was at fault. Sheer prejudice on your part.

  24. “FAs are there first and foremost for your safety. Yes, they bring you drinks and sometimes food, but that is by no means their primary purpose.”

    I’ve heard the above over and over again and something about it just grated on me. I think I have found out why:

    Bringing drinks and food and other such tasks does enhance safety or at least functionality of the aircraft. Imagine if the airplane was set up like a buffet restaurant. FA’s (or stewardesses as my generation called them, a much more noble term if you compare “attendent” to “steward” in the dictionary), help to keep people in their seats and calm. As airlines have started to charge for drinks and food and make the seats tiny, incidents of airrage have increased. It probably is no coincidence. Passenger comfort helps make people safe. That doesn’t mean that passengers should act like entitled jerks but when someone is sitting in a single seat for 4 to 8 hour straight, it makes sense that someone should “attend” to their needs.

    Did the FA’s stop 9-11 from happening? Ultimately, the only flight that overcame the terrorists was where the passengers took action. If the primary purpose of an FA is safety then fine. Without food and drink service, those tasks can probably be done by a SINGLE FA per flight. Really. Since MOST of what an FA does is drink and food service, then shouldn’t that be considered a primary task?

    I wonder if I should contact the airlines and ask to streamline and modernize their tasks. Put a sensor onto seat belts to detect if a passenger removes them while the light is illuminated. There goes seatbelt checks! The flight cabin doors are secured. Ultimately, with passengers outnumbering FA’s something like 50 to 1, security is ultimately up to the passengers. Just station a single security guard at the door and leave the rest up to passengers.

  25. @polishknight

    …clearly you’re not an airline employee, or someone who knows anything about safety procedures on an aircraft. Flight attendants are highly trained, and have saved passengers lives on many occasions ( ).

    Contact the airlines about streamlining these tasks all you want, but you’re not going to get far. All of this is federally regulated (FAA i.e. federal aviation administration) by people who’ve worked in the industry for many years. Many rules in aviation are “written in blood”. In the beginning, there was a lack of rules. Incidents and accidents happened, and people died. As a result of these deaths, new rules were put into effect (which is why we say they are written in blood).

    There’s a reason air travel is so safe in the US today. Education, training, more education, and more training. All federally mandated.

    Flight attendants are there to protect people like you, who are ignorant of what is involved/what goes in to aviation safety

  26. Really?? Let’s condone rude and disrespectful behavior and make it even more acceptable to treat others badly. What has happened to our society where treating others rudely is is applauded.

    I’m so pleased that the lawyer was kicked off the flight. It levels the playing field. He was probably an arrogant, condescending, and self-important dude that needs to be knocked down a few pegs. I hope it was a major inconvenience to him and that the fallout will have negative consequences– especially to his pocket.

  27. Sam, you know nothing whatsoever about this lawyer. One wonders what motivates you to indulge in a vengeful fantasy about a man you’ve never met and who is totally a stranger to you.

  28. Gee, I got through reading all the comments and I am SHOCKED there was no mention of “We the people” or Obama compared to feces. I guess I’ve been reading too much of my local paper’s comments.

    Seriously, the idea that running into someone in the doorway of the airport creates a hostile work environment is BS. The employee doesn’t get to decide whatever she wants to deem a hostile work environment is actually such.

  29. @Jeanne – actually, unless its an electrically-powered revolving door, it’s actually tradition with revolving doors for the man to go first, rather than for him to let the woman go first and start the door moving. Old-fashioned, I know, but if you’re going to cite traditional manners, he was right in this case.

    As for the whole role-of-flight-attendants argument – again! – there’s no reason we can’t recognize FAs have both a safety and security role (and they aren’t the same thing) and a customer service role. Other than passengers being reasonable about recognizing that sometimes the first has to be finished before the second, they’re not incompatible. After all, every crew member on a cruise ship, right down to the cabin steward who makes your bed and puts the towel animal on it, has an emergency role as well. The safety/security role for FAs is a much larger part of their job, but the principle is the same, and the safety role is not an excuse to be rude or go off on power trips. Especially when there are so many instances where “I dont feel comfortable with that person aboard” translates to “they have the wrong colour skin” or “they have an accent” or “we had a very minor disagreement and then the passenger didn’t kiss my butt enough”.

    FA should be sacked and the pilot cautioned.

  30. You cite one example and then go on to say crew are getting out of hand? Please. Spare us the over-dramatization.

  31. The article is correct. I was on a flight from Vegas to New Orleans to attend a friend’s wedding. I was looking forward to this trip for months. The flight attendants were especially gruff on this flight, barking orders at the passengers. My husband and I needed to use the restroom and he walked towards the front if the plane. I tried to call to him to use the back restroom but he didn’t hear me. It must have been a premonition. We walked to the front and got yelled at by the female flight attendant. She basically yelled that we couldn’t both stand there. I asked how far back I needed to wait and she said three rows back, so I went to stand three rows back. I felt like I was bothering the passengers sirti F there snd I was frustrated with how we were treated, so I said to my husband as I walked by him to use the restroom that it was ridiculous. I somehow knew that the flight attendant was going to say something to me when I came so I told myself to just not engage with her. When I came out she blocked by way, got within inches of me and said that the reason they had that rule was because of 911. I said I wasn’t interested and edged by body around her. As I did do she screamed “don’t touch me!”. I remember thinking that it was very strange that she said that because I hadn’t touched her. Well, it was planned. I was arrested at the airport and spent 19 hours in jail. She claimed that I pushed her and swore at her. I had done neither. They claimed that she had witnesses and I am assuming that she had the other flight attendants make up something or she convinced some passengers that I had done it. I wrote a scathing letter and asked if they had cameras and I was insulted and ignored. I’m also a lawyer but there was nothing that I could do because I had no evidence. I’m still angry and this was 5 years ago. New Orleans police are corrupt and I doubt that I would have been arrested anywhere else.

Leave a Reply

If you'd like to participate in the discussion, please adhere to our commenting guidelines. Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *