Airline Plays a Practical Joke on Me. Was it Funny?

Yesterday morning my flying day started super early in Yakima, Washington. I had a 6:35 a.m. flight on Horizon Air to Seattle. On the way to the airport I stopped at Starbucks.

I don’t have the Alaska Airlines app on my phone, and I was on an American-issued ticket and I hadn’t bothered to get the Alaska confirmation number. There are two check-in kiosks there but only one was working. It had a line, and Thanksgiving ‘once a year’ (or 5 years) passengers were trying to figure out how to use it. So I went up to the check-in desk.

By the time I made it to the check-in counter I was almost done with my coffee. I placed it on the counter to hand the agent my ID. And it tipped over and spilled. On the counter and the ground. On my pants and shoes. On the back of my rollaboard.

I wiped up my bag and shoes with paper towels from the restroom. The agent got a rag and wiped off the counter and the carpet. And then he asked me whether I needed assistance? I was a bit perplexed, realizing he was asking if I needed a wheelchair because I was so uncoordinated. Har har.

I went on my way, my pants dried, and I didn’t think much more of it. We had a beautiful morning flight to Seattle.

I didn’t think of the coffee incident again until I made it to my connecting gate for an American Airlines flight and the agent there was paging me because I hadn’t shown up for pre-boarding. My reservation apparently had a wheelchair request.

They were confused at the gate that I hadn’t asked for this. When I put two and two together and explained the agent in Yakima offering me assistance because I was so uncoordinated that I spilled my coffee, she got a good laugh. She removed the request from my reservation.

I don’t think I’d pull pranks about passengers needing wheel chair assistance, but when I’m the butt of the joke I can take it fine.

I shared the experience on Twitter yesterday:

So — funny joke, or inappropriate diversion of a wheelchair and staff who could have been helping someone else?

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, 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. My first flight on Horizon was on that segment many years ago. I think it was a good joke. No harm no foul. Not like they told TSA bunch you were suspect. Too little levity in airports these days.

  2. Not funny at all. And a waste of time and resources. I would not be pissed, but would notify the airline, personally.

  3. Harmless joke if you ask me. I would have laughed and thought “touche.” But people have gotten sensitive so unfortunately airlines need to be careful.

  4. The agent went over the line IMO..

    1. Those do appear on the manifest and if there was an emergency or a situation came up the FA would have to act under the assumption that you use a wheelchair.
    2. Waste of time and resource as someone probably went to the arriving gate for your Yakima flight thinking someone legitimately needs assistance (you might didnt notice or the person came after you deplaned)
    3. Lastly, it is a tasteless joke. Sure, it may be funny and those jokes may be appropriate if it was just between you and that agent, but when random people get pulled in the middle of a joke then it also partially becomes a mockery of those who have disabilities and requires wheelchair.

    The agent should have ended this joke after you left the check in counter.

  5. I don’t know how the system works when requesting a wheel chair, but maybe the agent could have made a mistake instead of playing a prank. You didn’t elaborate about the joke he made about you needing assistance while still at the checkin counter, maybe he was serious because someone else had erroneously entered that on your profile?

  6. Almost certainly just a mistake made while checking you in. The joke doesn’t make sense – I mean if you’d tripped in some comical way, then maybe. But spilling coffee = needs wheelchair = LOL? There’s no connection. I’m surprised that you thought there might be one.

  7. You guys are taking it way too seriously. Stupid Americans. Yes, it’s funny, and you’re an idiot for spilling your coffee everywhere!

  8. Gary the real lesson here is you should be home for Thanksgiving and not on a 6:35am flight out of Yakima, Washington.

  9. If this happened in NY, then the agent was having fun with you. But, since this happened away from NY, the agent really believed you needed assistance.

  10. Wouldn’t call it “funny” — the fun is pretty much lost on me. Would’ve been much better if a new fresh cup of Starbucks was waiting for you on the boarding gate — for God’s sake, it’s Seattle! We have coffee spilling out of our ears here ))))

  11. America, once hard, now so soft it’s pathetic. all the comments from the pc police are missing the REAL issue: it’s not about the *possible* wheelchair joke- it’s that the agent was clearly ‘clutzphobic’. Gary has been the victim of intolerance and discrimination. i’m PROUD to say i’m a clutz and NOBODY understands the pain of being a clutz in a blatantly clutzphobic world. the mocking. the jokes. the discrimination. the looks. you have NO IDEA what it’s like unless you’ve stumbled a mile in my shoes. we NEED a public face to bring awareness to our plight, and shame to clutzphobes- i think Gary is our guy. stand proud Gary, YOU’RE NOT ALONE.

  12. Thanksgiving in Washington Wine Country? Hop shopping? Hope you enjoyed the wine, because the weather sure didn’t cooperate. This week has been a deep freeze compared to the last few years around this time.

  13. The wheelchair attendant presumably works at least partly for tips and has a low income. Spare a tear for him/her.

  14. Good going Gary,

    I have never used this on purpose, but while traveling on crutches some years ago, I was pleased to be helped by German Lufthansa in Frankfurt, transferring from C-pier to A-pier with a WC-ramp in my booking.
    Crossing the entire FRA system in 10 minutes with security check was quite OK !

  15. No harm … But let’s talk about the real elephant in the room: flying over 200,000 miles per year, I am certain that in the US, well over 50% of those passengers in a wheelchair actually don’t need one. I have witnessed wonders and miracle seeing how well those people can actually walk. In other countries, people tend to be more honest and only require a wheelchair when it is actually a necessity, due to a handicap or other health issues. I get really irate when seeing a bunch of lazy people just wanting to be pushed in and out of the planes and getting to cut customs lines.

  16. As someone who has had to wait for wheelchair assistance in an airport, I don’t think it’s funny. It’s not funny for travelers who rely on the assistance to be able to travel and make connections, and it’s not funny for the staff who hustle to help people (and get tips). It also wouldn’t be funny if there had been an emergency and they had devoted extra resources to try to help you based on the impression you needed help.
    It’s not about being PC or not, it’s just about playing an idiotic “prank” that risks inconveniencing others and wasting resources. And that’s before we get into what it suggests the agent thinks of people who need assistance and their clumsiness. I just hope it was a mistake in the booking and not intentionally added by the worker.

  17. Ohhhhhh Brother. So much over-analyzing and hyper-drama.

    Ever heard of, or, enjoyed a tiny bit of sense of humor?

    Not everything has to be SO SERIOUS. It’s a bit of levity in an otherwise over-serious world.

    Sad people can’t chill a bit.

  18. Yes, I think it is funny. I salute the employee for his humor. In today’s America, it takes real courage to make attempts at humor since everyone is hyper-sensitive. This guy laid it all on the line to try and give you a laugh. To me, it’s a true act of caring and courage since he pretty much laid his job on the line just to hopefully give you a chuckle. Would I have done it? No, because the risk/reward on such a move is clearly not worth it. Do I think it was an altruistic move? Absolutely. Unless, of course, the guy was just too dense to be able to appreciate the risk involved in the first place.

  19. This is not funny at all. What a crap thing to do to someone. I don’t see any humor in this. It’s about as funny as torturing a cat. Shows lack of compassion for a fellow man even on the smallest level.

  20. Granted I have no experience requesting a wheelchair from Alaska Airlines, but in general wheelchair requests are becoming more difficult to get from airlines lately. You constantly have to wait forever for one to show up and have almost missed connecting flights on several occasions.

    I hope Alaska Airline service is better than what I have experienced but it would be disgusting if someone who needed a wheelchair was kept waiting while one was tied up playing a pathetic joke on you.

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