Once again, we are all watching viral video of a passenger being dragged off of a commercial airliner. This time, it was a Southwest Airlines flight from Baltimore to Los Angeles. The backstory is still a little murky, but the optic for Southwest Airlines is bad.
Apparently, the woman involved was seated in the back of the plane when another passenger boarded with an emotional support dog. Some reports state that there were two dogs involved. In any event, the woman then complained that she was deathly allergic to dogs and asked to have it or them removed from the flight. Southwest Airlines then reportedly told the woman that she would have to exit the plane because she could not produce a medical certificate confirming her allergic condition. The woman refused to leave the plane, however, and the Captain then called for security.
In a statement issued shortly after the incident, a Southwest Airlines spokesperson said, “Our policy states that a Customer (without a medical certificate) may be denied boarding if they report a life-threatening allergic reaction and cannot travel safely with an animal on board,” The airline further claimed that they had to remove the woman because they feared that she would have an allergic reaction in flight.
It appears, however, that the statement issued by Southwest Airlines’ spokesperson is at odds with the company’s actual printed policies. The full text of the airline’s animal allergy policy is below:
If a Customer is severely affected by allergies to an animal and notifies us of his/her allergy at the departure gate, we can ensure that the Customer with the allergy is seated as far away from the animal as possible.
Southwest is required by law to transport assistance and emotional support animals accompanying Customers with disabilities. Southwest requires that pets remain in an animal carrier throughout the duration of a flight. However, we cannot make such a requirement for assistance and emotional support animals. We also cannot require that Customers traveling with service animals provide advance notice of their intent to transport the animal. As such, we’re unable to provide advance notification if any animals will be traveling on a particular flight.
Nothing in that policy says anything about a passenger needing a medical certificate if she has an animal allergy. The airline’s Contract of Carriage has a catchall provision that says that it may refuse to transport or remove from an aircraft “any person who cannot be transported safely for any reason.” Perhaps that is the policy being referenced by the spokesperson, but even that seems a bit of a stretch in this circumstance.
In any event, a few things are readily apparent from watching this latest airline gaffe video:
1. Using brute force against passengers who pose no threat to a flight is dumb for business and should not be tolerated by the public or the government. Airline policies are good to have, and many are required by the FAA, but in reality they are the fine print in the part of the airline website that few people rarely visit. They are generally administrative and usually so densely written that even the airline employees cannot understand them. This gives rise to conflicts such as what we see in this video. But the ultimate point is that administrative issues should not ever provide a gateway to physical force or violence.
2. The woman in this video handled the situation very poorly. Even if you feel you are in the right, if you have been asked to leave a plane by the crew, you should leave the plane and deal with the issue in a civil manner at the gate. The simple reality, that we have seen time and again, is that resistance seems to bring out the worst in some of our airport security forces.
3. One last thing that really jumps out when watching the video is the flight attendant that can be heard on two occasions asking the other passengers to put down their phones. She clearly saw the viral videos coming and wanted to keep this incident under wraps. But that is not the world we live in.
Someday maybe the airlines will get it. We live in a smart phone world. Everything is recorded. Conduct yourselves accordingly.