7 Passengers Kicked Off Spirit Airlines Flight, Claim Discrimination: What Would You Do?

Seven African American passengers were kicked off of a Spirit Airlines flight from Los Angeles to Dallas yesterday.

Los Angeles Airport police officers initially escorted just one couple off Flight 868 shortly after 7:15 p.m. local time because a white flight attendant accused a male traveler of being disruptive when he refused to get up from his seat.

…Five more passengers were asked to leave after allegedly questioning the flight crew’s motives in kicking the couple off the flight. All seven passengers were African-American.

The passengers were rebooked and given hotel vouchers.

  • They claimed they were removed because they’re black. The flight attendant was white.
  • They further speculated it was because the flight was overbooked.

Apparently the situation began over a dispute over a seat. One of the passengers initially asked to leave the plane would not give up their seat when asked to do so by a flight attendant after another passenger arrived with a boarding pass showing they were assigned to that seat.

After the first passengers were removed for being disruptive, the additional passengers engaging crew over the ejection were deemed to be a threat as well, though they claim to have been ‘just having the conversation’.

I wasn’t on the flight. “[W]itnesses on the flight told reporters the banned passengers were being disruptive.” I can’t independently judge that, I’m inclined to believe based on my own experience but I also realize that there can be lots of misunderstandings in these situations and that an individual’s biases can play into how they seem them develop.

What I’m more interested in is what happens when you’re being removed from a flight?

  • Generally speaking a passenger removed from a flight at the discretion of the crew is going to be accommodated on the next flight. This doesn’t happen “all the time” but it does happen from time to time. With a large network carrier, like United or American, there are often several flight options to transport a passenger to their final destination. With an ultra low cost carrier like Spirit there are usually fewer flights to accommodate a passenger on. And Spirit keeps its costs low by not having the sort of agreements with other airlines that let them move a passenger onto another flight.

  • In other words, the consequences of something like this can be worse flying Spirit or Frontier than Delta or Alaska.

  • Airlines can generally evict passengers when the captain feels it is not safe to transport them – either for the aircraft or other passengers. That’s a judgment call that is in practice not really reviewable in the moment. After the fact, when it’s clear that employees made the wrong call airlines may bend over backwards with compensation.

  • If an airline refuses to transport a passenger to their destination, the passenger would be entitled to a refund. But it’s unlikely the refund will cover the walk up fare on another airline. So working with the airline is usually the best bet.

  • If a passenger doesn’t get satisfaction, the best they can hope for is to be made whole after the fact. If there are allegations of discrimination, that the customer doesn’t feel are handled appropriately, then the next step is usually filing a complaint with the Department of Transportation.

These situations are unfortunate and it’s rarely the case that they can be made to end well, or at least as well as had the situation not arisen in the first place.

Lawsuits are tough, you have to track down witnesses. They can be costly. The airlines are better-armed with lawyers. And it may take years to reach a conclusion.

Bad things happen. The best you can do is not escalate them.

  • Respect the authoritah of the crew, don’t try to vindicate yourself at least to the same person who is accusing you of something. If you ask for the captain they’re likely to back up their crew member.

  • If you’re removed from the flight, your first priority is to get rebooked. If there’s an overnight required, to get a hotel.

  • Then deal with compensation last.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. If they claim to be “African” American, what country in Africa? Hmmm? Airline lives matter. Glad they were removed. There’s always Greyhound for them, if THEY think they are black.

  2. Way too easy for some people to say discrimination and get compensated.

    Something wrong with society. And the majority race tends to push their guilt (of whatever they feel guilty of) on to others.

    They have problem with authority and being told what to do. Get in trouble with cops, get in trouble with FAs.

  3. It would be interesting in a follow up story if you could interview airport law enforcement officers and to a lesser extent FAMS:

    1. How do LEO’s handle situations where the airlines ask to remove a passenger?

    2. Does the LEO try to verify that the removal reason is valid, or do they just try to remove the passenger?

    3. What steps and how much force would a LEO use if a passenger refused to leave the airplane when asked by the airline or the LEO? This would be most interesting to know say if the offense of the suspect passenger is not viollent or not an imminent threat of harm to others, etc.?

    4. Would a LEO in a case like this charge the suspect pax with a state crime like disorderly conduct or a federal crime like interfeering with the duties of flight crew?

    5. After arrest or detension when would the suspect be handled by state e.g. asisstant DA as opposed to being turned over to the FBI?

    It would also be interesting if you could interview your airline employee sources about this topic, and what they are told or trained on how to handle these incidents?

    I would want to know if a gate agent or flight attendant would get a lot of scrutiny from corporate for booting off a passenger or if its sort of routine.

    Also I understand airlines have banned passenger lists, that would be interesting reading also about the business and technical details about how these lists are managed, who can put you on or off the list, and how real time the lists are, etc.

    Are people booted off flights every day in America, and we only hlearn of a few high profile publicized incidents?

  4. Yep all those racist flight attendents at it again… So racist they want to make their own jobs 1000 times harder by making customers mad for the color of their skin. Racist hillbilly flight attendents….

  5. black privilege. Sharpton, AG Holder, the racist president currently in office and the mainstream media LOVE LOVE LOVE the race card as the preferred way to handle any and all situations- facts be damned. 52% of murders are committed by blacks who make up 13% of the population. which , of course, is damning evidence that blacks are victims of racism. or so our dear leader (based upon his recent actions, he’s acting like he believes the office of president = dictator) and his minions would respond.

    so, yeah, sure…. must have been because they’re black. what other explanation could there possibly be….

  6. @Danny. they didn’t “choose” to fly Spirit. the racist fare policies of US airlines conspired to herd blacks onto Spirit where they would then be victims of race crimes by white racist FA’s. geesh, keep up…

  7. @abby, funniest thing I’ve read all week.

    My rule of thumb is that you will lose every argument with a FA on an airplane even if they are wrong, racist, rude or whatever you think. Playing the race card in that situation or refusing to give up your seat at a flight crew instruction is like bringing a knife to a nuclear war. You will lose every time. In fact disregarding the instruction of a crew member is a US Federal offense.

    I flew Spirit about a week ago from Houston to MCI. It just happened to have a big group of somewhat rowdy but fun loving nice black passengers on-board. Also a large number of folks from the Middle East. We had no issues and I didn’t witness any racism just for the record. In fact we pushed away from the gate about 10 minutes early and landed early while all the AA flights in the Midwest bottle necked at DFW.

    A story like this that involves Spirit is like a Chris Elliott story about Carnival and Norovirus. You just know there is gonna be spin.

  8. While not race-baiting per se you have to be pretty naive not to know what kind of commentary you’ll flush out with this kind of posting. So, presumably, this is an invitation to the trash — far below the general quality of this blog — that’s been posted.

    No evaluation of the situation is possible without the critical piece of information not supplied by this posting. Did the first passenger in the seat also have a boarding pass for the disputed seat?

    If the answer is no, the passenger is clearly at fault and if they refused to move to their assigned seat removing them from the plane was completely justified.

    If the answer is yes then the flight attendant was clearly at fault for expecting a black passenger to yield his seat to a white passenger when they both had equal claim and he already had possession.

    I went to the link which does not have a factual statement as to whether there were two boarding passes issued for the same seat but does note that the people kicked off the plane claim that was the case. It also suggests that (again, according to the people kicked off the plane) they were not the only ones being argumentative and yet they were the only ones forced off the plane.

  9. As soon as I read this post, I wondered how long it would take the closet racists to come out. And reading the first couple comments, the answer is….not long at all.

    It’s not even worth addressing the usual right-wing BS about Obama et al (if he’s such a dictator, why aren’t YOU in jail yet with Rush Limbaugh and Paul Ryan)? The reality is that no one commenting was on that plane, no one has insight into the inner soul of the parties involved, so no one really has anything other than their preconceived notions of race and racism to fall back upon in making judgments regarding this incident.

    Yeah, there are people who cry racism like the boy called wolf, and then there is the reality that racism still exists. Beyond anecdotal evidence, there are endless studies of the effect that race plays in hiring, lending, criminal sentencing, etc. I know that “science” isn’t much in vogue with our conservative countrymen these days, but it’s a helluva lot more persuasive than rants about over-entitled black people and their dictator Kenyan socialist president.

  10. @LarryinNYC gosh I guess I’m naive. What brought the story to my attention was an inquiry from a NYT reporter. And my response was – as it is here in the blog – that I don’t know what happened onboard. That while I am inclined to think these things usually have a provocation, I also realize that there are misunderstandings and that a person’s biases can influence their perception of a situation.

    The real question, since these things can happen, is how do you handle them? What do you do if this happens to you? That’s where I wanted to focus, it just had the news hook of an incident.

    And I’m disappointed by the assumptions some commenters are making. I usually do figure that, well, it’s the internet and people’s comments just reflect on them. But perhaps you’re right that this really ought not to have been the jumping off point for such a discussion. Though someone who inquired from “the paper of record” thought otherwise so I probably didn’t give it enough thought myself. Sigh.

  11. @LarryInNYC. Excellent points. When the facts come out, then evaluations of people’s motivations can be made with more credibility. Right now, it’s just unsupported speculation of what drove the behavior of those involved. Which, ironically, is what several posters here complain that African Americans (including those on the plane) are always doing.

  12. The first comments went from 0 to 1861 pretty quick. Holy sh*t. Knowing there are multiple people who were happy to judge the alleged victims without objective facts gives credence to the alleged victims stories. Self fulfilling prophecy.

    For the rest of us: the FA is always right. If you feel slighted, go for compensation after the fact. You will lose to the FA.

  13. Always hard to know for sure with these incidents, not having all the facts. What I wonder is, are these sorts of things actually increasing in frequency or are we just hearing more about them with them being the latest thing the news likes to pick up on? I don’t know that there is any reliable source for such data though.

  14. Gary, you are my favorite travel blog because your take is always fair and insightful. You handled this sensitive story exactly as you should have.

  15. The problem becomes if a person starts mouthing off aggressively to a flight attendant on the ground do you really want to be at 35,000 feet with that person and the potential for an escalation with no police available? On the video I saw the guy told the flight attendant that he wasn’t going to listen to him anymore and was only going to talk to the cops. Clearly there is a risk there that the guy would not listen to flight attendant instructions going forward so he had to go. The flight attendant was also wrong though in that I am sure he could have deescalated the situation before it got to that point but instead he made it worse. As to the other people from what I heard in the video they were not shouting or anything like that. They were requesting a supervisor and wanted the names of the members of the crew. Asking for information like that seems like a good way to get the FA to kick you off as we saw in another incident not too long ago. Also of note is an eyewitness interview (one of the people subsequently kicked off) where he admits the original passenger was told he was in the wrong seat and they asked him to move to his assigned seat and he refused to do so initially and that is what triggered the argument. I don’t believe this is a situation about race as much as some like to play the race card. I have seen this same situation arise on flights with people of different ethnicity. It got to the point where the first guy had to go and the other passengers I believe may have been kicked off by the FA, because they were threatening to make a complaint and the FA wanted to protect his job so he tossed them and made up something about feeling threatened. Its possible that it escalated more than the video showed with the other passengers, but they didn’t seem out of control or threatening at all and the footage I saw.

  16. Reading those first few comments made me embarrassed to be a participant on this blog. Thankfully it came back from there.

    The truthful state of affairs is that there are racists in every profession and there are also trouble makers out there willing to blame their own screw ups as someone else’s racism. Anyone who wasn’t present reaching a conclusion on either side is only revealing their own prejudices and nothing more.

  17. wow, the first few comments on here are not representative of the usual level of discourse on your blog, Gary. Looking forward to follow up stories on this. (note to self: avoid the comments in subsequent stories)

  18. Well the comments didn’t disappoint.

    Either way, I am going to go with a flight attendant overreaction for removing SEVEN people. That speaks to low customer service skills or a hot head FA. I highly doubt 7 people on a flight were being extremely disruptive to the point of no return.

  19. Did the flight attendants kick out those people by saying ” get out because you are black”? So it is racist for us to comment on anything t but it is not racist for people to play the victim card based on their race when they have absolutely no proof if race was even a factor.

    Like I said in my first comment, whites in this country are either racist or are apologists (feeling guilty and trying to infect everyone else with it)

    Based on my experience living in this country, everyone is a racist. They just hide it well. They hide behind words like “preferences, cultural differences and other stupid PC bs” to make racist choices. Even liberals are racist. Hell even blacks are racist. I have been on receiving end of black racism. Most liberals are self righteous PR mouth pieces that don’t even try to read what’s written because they have already stereotyped others as racist. This country will remain polarized as long as there are self righteous “I am right, you are wrong, and there is nothing more to talk about” morons on both sides. And some of them are on this blog.

  20. It would certainly be convenient to claim racism every time something doesn’t go my way. Alas, so is the society we currently live in, and it’s only seems to be getting more and more out of hand.

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