71 Year Old Deaf Passenger Has Arm Broken By Police During Austin Airport Layover

A 71 year old deaf Florida woman was connecting in Austin enroute to Seattle. She was a nervous flyer traveling alone for the first time in her life. Her hearing aid wasn’t working well, and wound up spending 3 days in jail and having her arm broken by police after she was unable to hear instructions from a gate agent – and asked twice to get on an earlier flight.

On September 13, 2022, Karen McGee had a three hour connection and seating herself at her connecting gate. She didn’t hear a gate change announcement for her flight. Her departure time passed, and she didn’t see her flight boarding, so she asked the Alaska Airlines gate agent what had happened. She missed her flight, and got rebooked on a later flight that evening.

However she thought there was another plane at the same gate that would be headed to Seattle (while Alaska and Delta operate the route 5 times daily between them, Delta flights are at the other end of the terminal and this is unlikely) and she asked the agent if she could get on that flight instead of having to wait until evening.

  • She was told no, but couldn’t properly hear the explanation.

  • So she asked another Alaska agent. That agent called the police.

Credit: Austin Police Bodycam Footage

When officers responded they informed her she was trespassing at the airport. But she couldn’t hear the instruction. She was “placed in a wheelchair and pushed to the front of the airport,” where was was handcuffed and taken into custody on trespassing charges.

She was “shoved against a wall” at the jail and stripped. When she questioned instructions from an officer she couldn’t hear, the officer “twisted her handcuffs with enough force to break her arm” and required surgery.

McGee says that she “lost time” and awoke in a jail cell with her clothes back on, but inside out. Her arm was aching and she held it close to her body. She was given Aleve but not taken to an emergency room. Upon leaving the jail after three days of detention, she collapsed. A police officer called an emergency medical technician, who helped her contact her husband and get her to a hotel for the night. She had surgery on her arm after making it home to Florida.

Austin airport

Even if she was animated, even if she was aggressive (though there’s no evidence of this, and the District Attorney refused to prosecute the trespassing case) at worst she behaved like every low cost carrier passenger from Florida ever, who just happened to be flying a legacy airline instead.

In Austin the police have quiet quit, and by most accounts don’t respond to all but the very serious calls in the face of protracted union contract negotiations with the city. Oddly they chose this incident to act. Karen McGee has yet to file a lawsuit.

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. AGAIN leaving out context. The Austin Police have quiet quit, but not because of a contract negotiation. They had funding cuts, the city council not supporting them, the DA prosecuting them, and residents like you voting against them. Have fun living in the bed you’ve made.

  2. Mak is mistaken about sovereign immunity. The police in the US have “qualified immunity”, not sovereign immunity.

  3. @Ben “residents like you voting against them” tell me about the specific votes I have taken? There’s a police accountability measure on an upcoming ballot, sure, that the city manager tried to front-run with a multiyear police contract that avoided accountability measures, the police themselves have pushed a similarly-titled fake accountability measure to confuse voters, and in contract negotiations they’ve sought to expunge the disciplinary records of bad actors.

  4. @GWWondement.
    There should not be a multiplicity of police departments in any one state in the 21st century with elected officials. What madness and an open door to corruption! Have one State police force like other modern countries.

  5. >Even if she was animated, even if she was aggressive

    Let’s just leave out the most important single fact in the entire story.

    She got herself arrested with her irrational behavior. Obviously, it’s the police’s fault.

  6. @bjp

    That was AFTER Gary corrected himself without acknowledging his original mistake.

    My quoted excerpt is the original. That’s why it was “quoted.”

  7. “AGAIN leaving out context. The Austin Police have quiet quit, but not because of a contract negotiation. They had funding cuts, the city council not supporting them, the DA prosecuting them, and residents like you voting against them. Have fun living in the bed you’ve made.”

    So there’s the context… and it still makes the cops look awful lol

  8. What a total failure of the airline and the airport. Gate workers are overstressed from airline overbooking, angry passengers due the overbooking, and the already spoiled frequent flyers. No calm considered response for a confused passenger. By the airline itself or the airport. But we just escalate poor customer service to local police. Wash our hands of the new passenger and call the next flight

  9. Gary Leff must have been having a bad day when he wrote this.

    He speculates that the deaf woman here might have been “animated” or “aggressive,” but then concedes that there’s no evidence of this. If there’s no evidence, why suggest the possibility?

    He writes that the elderly deaf woman “behaved like every low cost carrier passenger from Florida ever, who just happened to be flying a legacy airline instead.” What an elitist bit of snark. Once again, he’s imputing behavior to this woman that isn’t supported by the facts he himself has presented. And with this sentence, he sneers at people who fly Frontier and other low-cost carriers. Maybe he’s spent too much time in fancy airport lounges or in the cushy first- and business-class seats of legacy carriers. Is there any evidence whatsoever to suggest that people who fly Frontier and Spirit are more badly behaved than those flying legacy airlines? And let’s be clear, Mr. Leff doesn’t say that SOME low-cost carrier passengers behave badly; he says EVERY low-cost passenger does. I’d love to see the statistics on that.

    Finally, in an aside tangential to the article, he returns to a favorite theme of his — namely, that unions are bad. This has nothing to do with the actions of the gate agents or the police.

    There’s not a speck of compassion in his article for a deaf, elderly inexperienced flyer who seems to have been doing her best to understand and comply with airline instructions. Instead, there are multiple insinuations that she was somehow behaving badly — because hey, she’s flying Frontier.

  10. News flash. Cops at the airport avoid confrontation with a passion. The last thing they want to do is have to make an arrest because everything is recorded and witnessed by 100’s of people. There are more cameras in that airport than a casino. They do everything in their power to avoid it. They know that no matter what they do they will be blamed. They avoid having to even get near a person let alone having to actually touch a person. Alaska Airlines was the airline involved. Prior to the suspect being arrested for criminal trespass a certified deaf interpreter responded to the scene and assisted with the investigation. Everything was attempted to avoid the arrest. And yes this occurring in the City of Austin they will indeed provide the suspect with a nice settlement cause that’s what they do!

  11. Everyone is obsessed with the behavior of the police. Yes, her arm was broken by the police. That’s a legal and political matter to be certain. And we wouldn’t be discussing that if airport management hadn’t let a 71- year-old ticket holding airline passenger become a trespasser. HOW does that even happen? The details to that specific aspect of this story should be quite important. Is this standard behavior for airports now? Travelers would like to know.

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