Wednesday, April 6, 2016


                DON'T PLAY THE RACE CARD!

                 Disruptive Airline Passengers

 Making an early run to the grocery store for coffee cream this morning, I listened to a news segment on the Tom Joyner Show regarding a female passenger (wearing a “Black Lives Matter” T-Shirt) on United Airlines being taken off the airplane for disruptive behavior. The inference for the listeners to the piece was that the passenger’s exodus from the flight might have had something to do with her race, or the T-Shirt.
Although details of the incident are sketchy, it appears that the passenger was seated in the Exit Row and was not being cooperative with the flight attendant’s job responsibility to receive verbal commitments from ALL passengers seated in the Exit Rows for assistance in the case of an Evacuation Emergency. All passengers who fly, and been seated in an Exit Row seat, know of this procedure to obtain “verbal” acknowledgment of willingness to assist in case of an Emergency. Passengers also must be able to understand and speak English, for obvious reasons. Failure to render this agreement for cooperation requires that the passenger unwilling to agree to assist be re-seated.  Evidently, there was more to the story than the passenger’s refusal to render a verbal response to the flight attendant that resulted in the expulsion from the flight.  There may have been a language barrier, given that Tom Joyner also mentioned the passenger may have had difficulty speaking English.
Flight crews, after the September 2001 terrorist attacks, have been trained to maintain a Zero Toleration policy for passenger misconduct, which includes passenger failures to comply with on-board Safety procedures. Excessive drinking, belligerence and any other disruptive behavior Will NOT be tolerated, especially on the ground, before closing the door at the Departure gate. Passengers need to understand this before they board an aircraft. In purchasing a ticket on today’s airlines, it is tacitly agreed that one is agreeing to abide by the airline’s rules of safety and passenger conduct. 
I am a retired Boeing 757 captain and have the indelible memory of the peering down into the smoldering hole that was two days prior the site of the World Trade Centers. After those tragic hijackings, airline crews, of necessity, tightened-up procedures for passenger conduct on board flights. No longer do airline crews tolerate any form of shenanigans or misbehavior on flights. On one of my own flights I had the unpleasant duty of denying an African-American passenger, accompanied by his wife and three young children, boarding on a flight from Midway Airport to Seattle because he got upset with the Senior flight attendant, threating to kick his MF’ing  ass, for not immediately resolving a seating conflict separating his family as they boarded the flight. The Senior flight attendant called Airport Security, informed me that he had been threatened by a passenger, and refused to work the trip if that passenger was allowed to remain on the flight. In an incident like that, a captain has no recourse but to support his co-worker’s call.
I escorted the young Brother outside onto the jet-way and supportively explained to him exactly why he was being denied boarding; he had threatened a flight crewmember.  We have an unwritten motto in the airlines: We don’t take a potential problem on the ground into the air with us.  Once airborne on a flight segment, if a disruptive situation develops that can’t be managed by flight attendants, we WILL divert to an Alternate en route airport, deplane and have passengers arrested who can’t conduct themselves in the proper manner. Passengers need to know this.

Given the reality of today’s onboard safety rules for proper passenger conduct on airliners, I feel it was disingenuous of Tom Joyner to mention the incident on the United Airlines flight, emphasizing that the female passenger who was expelled from the flight had a “Black Lives Matter” T-Shirt.  The easy inference being that her being kicked-off the flight had something to do with race.  It appears, from the information available, that this passenger was resistant to acknowledging Exit Row procedures and therefore was required to be re-seated. Any resistance, verbal or otherwise, to this procedural requirement could have been perceived as recalcitrant or threatening behavior that the flight attendant is not obligated to tolerate. The passenger has to leave the aircraft, no matter who she or he is, Black Lives Matter T-Shirt or not.  Let’s reserve the Race Card for applicable scenarios; we diminish its value if it is played without discretion.

Submitted by Capt. Brian H. Settles ( RET.) 

Author of   Smoke for Breakfast: A Vietnam Combat Pilot’s Story


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