CTwatchdog.com’s George Gombossy has the story of a New York state woman who was traveling to Alaska on United with her ski club back in March. The group had already flown two legs of the trip — from NYC to Houston, then Houston to Seattle — before it boarded the third plane to take them from Seattle to Anchorage.
Seeing empty seats on the plane, the passenger went to sat down in a seat that was not her assigned spot.
“I saw many empty rows of seats and I went to sit in one of them,” the passenger tells CTwatchdog. She says a flight attendant noticed and immediately told her she could not sit there because there were still people expected to board the flight.
The passenger went to her assigned seat, waited until everyone had boarded the plane. She spotted an empty seat in a row with only one other passenger, so she made the switch.
Thing is, that seat was in an exit row, for which United (and some other airlines) charge extra because it has slightly more legroom than most Economy seats.
The passenger, who refers to flight attendants as “stewardesses,” says that an attendant told her, “You need to pay extra if you sit here. Give me your credit card.”
“I explained to her, ‘I am a registered nurse and people who sit in this row accept the responsibility of helping people off the plane. If there should be an ‘Emergency Evacuation’ of the plane, I am willing to take the responsibility to do so,’” she recalls.
The flight attendant explained that, regardless of whether the passenger was willing to take responsibility for the seat, it was going to cost her an additional $109 to sit there. Unwilling to pay that upcharge, the passenger says she returned to she seat she’d booked.
She says that’s when one of the flight attendants went to the cockpit. Shortly thereafter, two individuals visited the woman’s seat and asked her to exit the plane, telling her that alternate plans would be made for her flight to Anchorage.
She refused, saying she did not want to be separated from her group and pointing out that she had returned to her original seat as requested.
CTwatchdog reports that it has seen a video of the incident and that police twice warned the passenger that she would be arrested if she did not exit the plane voluntarily. She continued to refuse, and was taken off the plane by force, reportedly grabbing at seats while being pulled by the officers.
Police charged the passenger with trespassing and resisting arrest. She waited in jail for three days before she was able to post bond.
A United rep tells CTwatchdog that the passenger was removed from the plane because she refused instructions from the flight crew to return to her assigned seat.
But the passenger and some of those on the plane around her say that she had returned to her seat after being told she’d need to pay the additional money.
“She definitely was [in her seat],” writes one men who claims to have witnessed the incident, “which can be verified by numerous passengers in the immediate seating area. Evidently not one of the crew observed her moving back to her assigned seat.”
Both the passenger and the airline should share blame in this matter. The passenger appears to have been presumptuous about her right to sit in any empty seat on the plane. Just like I can’t take over an empty luxury box at a Phillies game, she can’t hop into an unoccupied seat without asking. Meanwhile, United staff could surely have handled this better. Since when does a passenger who wants more room constitute a security threat worth removing from the plane?
The most problematic area comes with the actual removal from the plane. When the officers come down that aisle looking to take you back to the gate, the situation has reached the point of no return, as passengers in this situation are basically given two options — leave willingly and be detained for a short while, or refuse to leave and be charged with resisting arrest. There is no opportunity to present one’s side of the situation, and any attempt to do so will only make matters worse.