Removed From Southwest Flight Over Tweet?

Filed Under: Media, Southwest

File this one under totally crazy stories — a Southwest passenger was apparently removed from a plane because of a Tweet he wrote, and wasn’t allowed back on the plane unless he deleted it.

Via CBS Minnesota:

He’s an “A-List” passenger, which means he gets priority boarding. But a gate agent wouldn’t let his 6-year-old and 9-year-old board with him — so they’d all have to wait to board later.“In leaving I said, you know, ‘Real nice way to treat an A-list. I’ll be sure to tweet about it,’” he said.

And that’s just what Watson did.

“Something to the effect of, ‘Wow, rudest agent in Denver. Kimberly S, gate C39, not happy @SWA,’” he said.

Soon after getting to their seats, the family of three was asked to leave the plane.

“[She said] her safety feels threatened at this point because of what I tweeted,” Watson said.

Here’s a CBS This Morning report on the incident:

If I’m not mistaken, on Southwest you can pre-board with children four or under, though other than that have to either board separately or with the highest group number of anyone in your party. So it does seem like this guy was looking for an exception in the first place, and the gate agent wasn’t wrong for denying him that (though if he’s being honest, her tone was way off and she could have benefited from doing the “Just Plane Fun” Shuffle).

That being said, how that can translate into being removed off a plane is beyond me. Assuming we’re getting most of the story here, this certainly isn’t the first time someone has been removed from a flight using the “safety” excuse. While I’m all for giving airline employees the latitude to make decisions that involve removing passengers over safety, there’s no doubt that his has been abused many times.

Southwest 737

Yeah, the guy is totally lame for verbally threatening to Tweet about her, but removing him… really?!

What do you think? Are we getting the full story, and if so, is the gate agent in the wrong?

  1. Total abuse of power. I don’t care how ‘lame’ it may be to tell a gate agent that you will tweet about a customer service experience. This is no reason to deplane a passenger. The NTSB and DOT should look more carefully at these kinds of abusive crew practices… happens way more than is reported. I agree that passenger air rage is totally unacceptable and a safety concern……but it’s the same when you have a disgruntled crew person abusing FAA Regs. The airline should reprimand the employee or be fined. Disgusting.

  2. So, if he had Tweeted a compliment, would he have received drink tickets or some other other tangible acknowledgement? Based on this information in this post, this seems like a gross abuse of the crew safety provision for removing a passenger.

  3. The official sequence for SW boarding is, “handicapped” passengers and their families first (need a “blue sleeve” ticket holder/authorization), then business select (positions A1-15 or anyone who has “upgraded” to the A-1 to A-15 boarding cohort), then positions A-16 through A-30 (usually A-List preferred members and some A-List members), then positions A-31 through A-60 (usually A-List members, passengers who have purchased priority boarding, and “fast fingered” passengers who have hovered over their check-in device waiting for the 24 hour window to open so they can check-in and snag a higher boarding sequence), then any A-List or A-List Preferred passenger who missed their assigned slot, then families with small children and military personnel in uniform, then positions B-1 through B-30, then positions B-31 through B-60, then positions C-1 through C-30, then positions C-31 through C-60, and finally anyone else left at the gate (usually passengers on stand-by). A passenger may board anytime in a position lower than their assigned position, but, with the exception of families traveling with handicapped passengers (they board first) and families with small children (they board after all A-List and A-List Preferred passengers but before the B cohort), passengers are supposed to board in their assigned A, B, or C number order. As most know, SW uses “land-rush” seating and quite honestly snagging the exit row and bulk-head seats on long duration flights can be very nice, because the airline uses only 3-3 seating configuration in their 737’s. A-List Preferred members (I’m one myself) can get really bent out of shape by passengers seeking to “line jump” and heated words have been exchanged. Amongst high frequency SW flyers it’s very much a matter of etiquette that you are to respect the boarding sequencing.

  4. Follow the full story. He was removed, talked to, and allowed back on board. While the gate agent was certainly out of line, and it sounds like it was scary for the kids (which bums me out majorly) there is a whole crate of DYKWIA in here.

    A-List gets you a mid-A number which gives you your choice of seats in the front of the plane. Trying to bring folks along is common practice, and frowned upon both formally and informally. To accommodate this, between A and B list boarding, SWA allows families that don’t have an A boarding pass to board. This means you wont be 16th-20th to board, but rather 60-65th to board. On a 737, while you won’t get whatever seats you want, you will absolutely get to sit together. On top of that, A-Listers (or anyone) can upgrade their family to Early Bird for $12.50 each, which puts you right behind the A-Listers (think 30-40).

    I’m A-List Preferred (take that!) and Companion Pass. When I travel with my free companion, they don’t get an A boarding pass unless I buy them early bird. At any rate I then have the choice of boarding ahead and trying to save them a seat (also frowned upon, but not as heavily) or waiting and boarding with them, to which no one objects.

    At any rate the fuss and tweet were about the rules. You can see them here: and here: If the guy had played by the rules he would have boarded and sat with his family, just not in as prestigious a seat as he wanted. You can find lots of discussion about the general thoughts about trying to sneak people up in line all over the boards.

  5. I personally hate southwest. Their flight attendants are too “eccentric”. I’ve complained about a experiences with them to corporate and they don’t take it seriously.

  6. Sorry, have to disagree with the last post. This isn’t about DYKWIA. It’s about an airline crew member abusing the FARs. Deplaning a passenger IS a big deal. And deplaning a passenger with young kids is just plain abusive. Let’s also not forget that this crew person’s actions run afoul of the contract of carriage…..and should I even mention 1st amendment rights here? Everything else about ‘the boarding process, etc.’ is missing the point. A passenger asked for an exception and a crew person denied it. Fine. But if a passenger tweets a complaint, the proper response should come from customer service. A retaliatory attack by the people charged with passenger safety is unacceptable.

  7. @ Liam
    Agree with some of what you say, but to answer your question – no, you should not mention first amendment rights, as there was certainly no state action involved.

  8. Lord knows I have no use for Southwest but he’d have a stronger leg to stand on if he hadn’t threatened the gate agent. You have a right to tweet about your anger at your poor experience, but everyone knows you don’t threaten people on the job in an airport. It wasn’t really a “safety” threat but anyone would feel threatened in their job if a customer said they were going to tweet about you if you didn’t do as they demanded… Let me ask this: If he had just shut up and tweeted the very same thing, at the very same time, would she even have found out about the complaint in time to have him removed from the plane and intimidated? I tend to doubt it.

  9. This was a bad situation where an employee misbehaved. However I like Southwest because it offers the routes I need and great redemption of points.

  10. Peachfront: Really? Saying you’re going to tweet about the experience is a “threat?” I suppose by pure definition that’s true, but would the agent have taken the same action if someone had said they were going to call the customer service line to complain, which happens all the time in just about every industry? I was in a service position for many years, and it was not uncommon at all to hear disgruntled customers say they were going to call and complain. This is a case of an agent being a complete a$$hat and abusing a federal law (inappropriately) to make a very misguided point. But there was no threat.

  11. The tweeter been defended enough here. I think to tweet a complaint is fine, but to give that much detail of the person and where they are goes a little beyond. I’d bet people waiting for the specific flight got that tweet.

    Is he teaching his kids to threaten people whenever you don’t get your way?

  12. Why do we hear so many stories of airline staff, crew and agents being allowed to pull the “safety” red card with impunity with little or no justification?

    When did OUR safety become a weapon for someone to use against us because they got their knickers in a knot or they were otherwise offended by a passenger? It’s absolutely ridiculous.

    Of course, if you or I felt threatened or we felt our personal safety was at risk, there’s jack-shit we can do about. In fact, we’d probably be told if we don’t feel safe, leave!

    Someone correct me if I’m wrong, but it seems to me to that cases like this, if proven to be false (which would very easy to do if corroborated by another pax) are at a minimum, slanderous and grounds for some kind of action.

  13. Carl, I don’t think defending the pax and condemning the agent are mutually exclusive. His behavior before the tweet, as well as the tweet are debatable in terms of appropriateness. You can condemn his action, but that does not excuse the agent’s blatant abuse of a federal regulation and a completely out of line power trip.

  14. @HunnerWolf -I think to give the same complaint and detail on a customer service call would be fine. I hope people see that and other “private” communications as different than tweeting and other social media. I believe her name and details went out to about 1.7 million @southwestair followers.

  15. I think people are missing the point, in today’s social media world customer service personnel are under a microscope when it comes to their behaviors. So if this A lister was boarding when he was suppose to, why couldn’t he board with his children? This doesn’t sound like the typical SW way, what harm would it have caused? I too would have been upset at the GA, and if I tweeted I would have written the same thing. But for the GA to pull him off the flight, was abuse of power, ” “[She said] her safety feels threatened at this point because of what I tweeted,” Watson said.” SW needs to coach this GA and yes, the FAA and DOT need to investigate this.

  16. HunnerWolf – I see the issue of abuse of power. Was it the gate agent’s decision to temporarily remove them or somebody higher? At the very least the gate agent was pretty thin-skinned to be at that post.

  17. He was “Removed” but then let back on. He should have just boarded with the families a few spaces back.

  18. I’m going way out there but if a passenger gave a GA a dirty look or the evil eye, could the agent claim she felt threatened for her safety and remove the passenger?

  19. When people continue to fly them they will continue to do whatever they like, there is no reason to make an effort to discipline staff when there is no significant backlash. When I do not like something I boycott it absolutely, I boycott whole countries lol talk with my money simple, if everyone did that religiously our views will count more that all this ‘talk’.

    Btw this kind if crap only happens in the US you have people who are too big for their boots, been given too much authority, think mall cops. It is always with the lower/lowest ranks of society where you have the biggest attitude and power abuse issues.

  20. Pathetic father to have boarded without his children just for a seat. A real entitled F Lister there.

  21. There is nothing “lame” about threatening to report the incident via Twitter to a CS agent. In essence it is no different than asking to speak to a supervisor.

  22. From reading other news stories on this, Watson has flown several Southwest flights in the past and from asking the same question to those gate agents, they’ve always given his kids the privilege to board the plane with him. This is the first time he encountered a gate agent who was strict with the rules. From learning that, this sounds more like an entitlement issue for the customer.

  23. @CFFrost, there certainly are 1st amendment ramifications here since failure to comply with deplaning orders issued for safety reasons (rightly or wrongly) could easily result in criminal charges, and pretty serious ones at that.

  24. Regardless of the rude behavior, the gate agents action could be considered criminal. By removing this man and children from the plane until the tweet was deleted is extortion on the part of the gate agent.

  25. As an A lister, the tweeter was well aware of Southwest policy of family boarding after the A group but before the B group boards. If he wanted to have his sons board earlier, he should have PURCHASED PRIORITY BOARDING or BUSINESS SELECT seats for them. But, he felt PRIVILEDGED, but in reality, he was CHEAP

  26. @PVN
    I’d agree with you if the individual was removed by a federal air marshall. However, in this case it appears the individual was merely removed by a rogue employee. That would be very unlikely to be considered “state action” for purposes of the first amendment. Especially since there are several layers of government security on airplanes – TSA, Marshals, FAA etc – the airline is not acting in a manner that replaces government services.

    My only point, however, is to point out a frequent misunderstanding and pet peeve of mine – that constitutional rights apply to individual action. Not true. If an employer, a landlord, a retailer, etc tries to censor you, or search you, even if such censorship or search could ultimately result in criminal penalties – there may be statutory violations but they have not imputed your constitutional rights, since their action does not constitute state action. It’s an important concept for citizens to understand, in my opinion, and one that is frequently overlooked.

  27. I’m a flight attendant, and I’ve witnessed many entitled passengers lose their cool and threaten me when I call them out on breaking the rules, especially regarding carry-on bag size. My polite requests for passengers to comply with FARs have turned into vitriolic tirades and admonitions for my “lack of common sense.” My consolastion is that like Southwest, my company will back me up when it comes to enforcing federal regulations… and that they’ll be out of my face in 2-6 hours… and I’m the one with flight benefits.

  28. I will try to keep it short as I got in on this late:

    1] As ANY high level frequent flyer knows, there is NOTHING to be gained by pissing the gate agent off…They are the king of their particular hill, period…Fighting that is a loosing battle, embrace it and use it to your advantage…

    2] Social media and words like “right to”, “free speech”, “freedom of…” ect ect ect is a very slippery slope…There is a difference between trying to SOLVE a problem via Twitter [which I do all the time] and making a personal attack/jab/slanderous remark ect ect ect…

    3] This IS a DYKWIA issue…he was trying to get something that is not the rule, period…No “but’s”…He wanted something that he was not entitled to, and decided to cause a scene because he didn’t get what he wanted…Causing a scene at an airport or on an airplane has consequences…Sometimes they are good, sometimes they are not…When you make the CHOICE to cause the scene, you roll the dice on how it will play out…

    4] Anyone who doesn’t agree with what I have stated doesn’t fly a lot…

  29. @CFFrost, what do you think would have happened if he refused the deplaning order? It’s not a request, and everyone knows the authorities will and do back up the order.

  30. @ PVN

    What WOULD or COULD have happened is not a relevant inquiry. Just like if a friend of your “searches” your house and finds drugs – then decides to call the police – the fact that police WOULD respond to such a call does not mean that an illegal search in violation of the 4th amendment (i.e. without a warrant or a valid exception to the warrant requirement) occurred due to your friends activities. You may have a private civil action against your friend for trespass or something similar but that is a different issue.

    The most notable exception to the state action requirement with regard to the first amendment is when a private company is operating an entire town – replacing all government services – and I just don’t see that here.

    Again, my only point was to point out that state action is a required threshold before (almost all) constitutional rights are implicated. Whether some obscure exception can be argued is not really my point – I just find a lot of misinformation on this point, especially in main stream media that screams of “free speech violations” when, for example, an employer fires someone for a Facebook post or something – no, there is no state action there!

  31. @CFFrost, of course what *would* happen is relevant. Your example makes no sense because drugs are, in most jurisdictions, *actually illegal.* If your friend threatened you with police action because he didn’t like a tweet you made from his house, what would happen? Most police would laugh, and at the very most escort you off the property but in the case in question here, the possible charges aren’t limited to trespassing.

  32. Okay I’m a customer service geek and just heard the story. If the agent felt she handled it appropriately she should have left it at that and ignored the comment! Someone at Southwest air messed up and needs to own it!

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