Crazy: Family Removed From Flight Because Mother Gave Her Business Class Blanket to Son in Coach

It’s always awkward to fly in a different class of service than other people in your party.

Last summer I wrote about a supposed trend of husbands riding in business class while their wives sit in coach. There were lots of reasons offered for this.

  • The husband gets a business class ticket from their employer but can only afford a coach ticket for their wife to come along.
  • The husband is so insufferable to travel with that the wife wants him in a different cabin.
  • The guy is just a rich jerk and only think the woman he travels with is ‘worth’ business class once she gets pregnant.

I’d give my wife my premium seat if we had only one. She’d want to sit back with me in coach. So I have to ensure we’re both up front.

Work trips are even more fraught. What do you do when you’re upgraded but your boss isn’t?

The first time I got an upgrade while traveling with a work colleague I was in just my second year of elite status and flying United Washington Dulles – Phoenix. I felt badly and brought my ice cream sundae back to my co-worker in coach. She lit up with joy at the surprise.

It seems I could have wound up arrested.

A woman on a Copa Airlines flight CM761 from Panama City to Lima gave her business class blanket to her son seated at the very front of economy but a flight attendant “told her that her youngest son could not use it and took it away.”

The passenger claims this flight attendant “verbally assaulted and pushed” her. The blanket was taken away from her son and police were called. She was threatened that they would remove her in handcuffs if she didn’t go willingly.

Copa of course is a Star Alliance partner of United and at one point United’s merger partner Continental owned a 51% stake in Copa. So it could have been worse…

(HT: YadiMolina)

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. Incredible that this happened.

    At least in this instance the police were polite and concerned–and judging by their expressions, in disbelief over the incident–and they took the time to interview the male passenger (witness) across the aisle, and took his name and contact information. I speak enough Spanish to understand that the male passenger’s story supports the story given by the passenger, that all she did was give the blanket to her son, for him to use.

  2. COPA staffs might be dealing with different kind of business class customers though. This week on our Panama City to IAD flight, a single mother wanted to bring her 4 children to sit with her at the two seats they purchased…

  3. I’m sure she didn’t get removed for giving him the blanket. She was removed for throwing a tantrum when the flight attendant took the blanket back and told her this wasn’t allowed.

  4. Another misleading title. The family wasn’t removed for handing over a blanket, it was because of the disturbance afterwards. Not defending the airline, just wished your titles weren’t such clickbait.

  5. I feel like the narrative right now is “airlines treat customers like garbage” which is a little bit true. The bigger narrative in my mind though should be “people keep pitching fits like little toddlers every time they don’t get their way.” In almost every recent situation where people have been removed from flights, it has been because they reacted to a customer service failure (real or imagined) by yelling, screaming, refusing to comply, or otherwise being out of control. I’ve seen this a number of times on recent flights. People really need to calm down and learn how to handle conflict and frustration like adults.

  6. A couple of years ago I was doing site visits for some multimillion dollar equipment purchases. When the vendor’s sales team and I got to the gate for our YYZ-YUL flight, the sales manager got upgraded to J (he was AC Super Elite). He sat up front and had a hot breakfast while his assistant and I sat down the back. I get to fly lots of international F and J, so spending an hour in Y on an A320 is no big deal. I did think it was rather poor form for him not to offer the J seat to the client though. A missed opportunity to butter me up!

  7. If it was First or Business paid for by the company, its fraudulent to submit the cost for yourself if you give it to your spouse.

    Free upgrade then no problem

  8. No @Tim if the airline hadn’t pitched a fit when she gave her blanket to her son, they wouldn’t have been kicked off.

    Don’t call something clickbait if you don’t know what that means. You would prefer a different framing of the post. That doesn’t even make Gary’s framing wrong. And it’s certainly not ‘clickbait’.

  9. This is completely stupid.  I can imagine being upset if she then asked for a replacement blanket.  But what does it matter if she uses it or she gives it away?

  10. I see no documentation on the video nor in print that the mother of the small child was “throwing a tantrum,” pitching a fit like a little toddler” or even causing a “disturbance” beyond conversing in a normal tone of voice — so why insert unfounded biased prejudicial fantasy into the discussion – because she speaks Spanish, because she’s a woman, because rigid authoritarianism must override common decency? The airline’s ridiculous response to a mother giving her very young child a cozier blanket from a different cabin was petty and poorly handled. The mother paid for use of that blanket, if she prefers to give it to her small child, that is her prerogative — and certainly a normal inclination of any nurturing mother. The airline should have used reasonable discretion and certainly not have called police to harass mother and child, delay deplaning for the entire cabin and waste the resources of the police. The unreasonable behavior was on the part of the airline. This is all about putting profit above the well being of customers.

  11. Copa is a joke, they make up their own rules. They moved me from an exit row because I couldn’t speak spanish and wouldn’t be able to understand instructions from a crew member if there was an emergency.

  12. Maybe the flight attended should have been removed for throwing a tantrum about the mother giving the blanket to her son.

    Don’t like the titles of the articles, make your own blog.

  13. Why is it so hard for people to just follow rules these days? And when they break rules and get called on it they throw a fit!

  14. Don’t understand what the big deal is about giving a blanket to an economy class flyer. Same thing happened to me. I asked for a blanket on the way in, was told there were none and a nice young man in 1st class offered my his. Of course the flight attendant told me I couldn’t accept it. Where is the human decency? Is it really such a caste system???

  15. You really can’t understand “caste system”? First class vs. economy is the definition of a caste system

  16. In our present world, I can understand what the mother did. (Did not say I agree with her.) I can also understand that FA was following some rule book to the letter. (Did not say that I agree with that either.)

    As I see it, both sides in many disputes do not understand what the other party is doing or why. And more importantly, are their actions mandatory, or do they have discretionary wiggle room? Perhaps the FA was having a bad day and did not want to budge, so acted “correctly.” That in turn, caused the mother to act in a manner that she did.

    As long as most passengers are flying in cattle car cabins not on Ethiad or Singapore super duper deluxe first class seats or apartments, this pressure will grow. As aviation has always gone in a pendulum motion, this, too, will swing back towards treating passengers like customers, not cattle.

    Too many people crammed on too small seating tube. Never mind that flying is cheaper now than in the golden age of flying. Seating was more comfortable, service was good and friendly, even food was tasty, and booze flowing. Tempers have been escalating because customers feel it. Tempers have been escalating because FA’s feel their customers’ tensions.

  17. If there are no blankets in coach class than it depends on company policy. First and Business amenities shouldnt go back into coach class. Was the flight attendant following policy? Someone in coach sees this and I guarantee you they will be asking for one as well. Or if a flight attendant allows it on one flight the passenger will expect it on others.

  18. Why is it so difficult for airline personnel to make an intelligent decision to ignore a one-off? In this case it is hard to see how a mother providing a blanket for a child is going to drive a truck through the policy exception.
    Once again company culture is paramount. Do you empower your employees to make customers happy (when the cost is trivial or $0) or do you implement a “rules based” approach where every rule must be strictly followed without exception?
    Kudos to Gary for continuing to call out every incident. None of this nonsense will stop until the airlines are sufficiently shamed. And I certainly see no need to fly COPA if this is the attitude.

  19. @Boraxo: It isn’t difficult for them to make intelligent decisions, and 99.999% of the time they do.
    The problem is, we only hear about the 0.001% of cases where things go wrong. With 8 million people flying daily, one-in-a-million incidents happen 8 times per day. These events are news because they’re exceptions.

    Problems like this seem common because the internet and social media have given every walnut a soapbox capable of reaching a global audience. If you weren’t reading a blog which referenced a message board where someone posted a link to a Peruvian news article about a Facebook post of a video someone took on their smart phone, you’d never have heard about this incident.

  20. Bingo, Arcanum. And to exacerbate matters, you can count on certain bloggers to then repeat the one-in-a-million story over and over and over, until the sheeple believe that it is SOP..

  21. Mike. You were kidding, right?
    Copa kicked you out of your emergency exit row seat because you didn’t speak Spanish?

    Of course they did just like every freaking airline anywhere in the entire freaking world, including the US. If you don’t speak the language in which emergency directions are given you can’t provide the asdistance needed in order to sit in the (guess how this row of seats got it’s name.)

  22. Surely it takes more than a “wayward blanket” to warrant summoning the police? Video snippets like these may not portray the complete incident. Whose to say what transpired before the police arrived and the camera was switched on?

  23. The indapendant witness told the cops that the woman did not get loud or aggressive and that the FA was being unreasonable. The FA should have been removed for making such a big deal of this.
    I feel sorry for that witness who spoke to police, that FA probably slipped something unpleasant into his food & drink. I bet he was sick after the flight ????

  24. Mike, that would certainly annoy me as I’d have wanted the extra legroom, maybe I’d even paid extra for it. However it does make good safety sense to have native speakers of the language of the airline sat by the exits.
    I’d be rather miffed if I burned to death because someone who couldn’t speak the native language of the crew / airline failed to open the doors on time because they didn’t understand the commands.

    “Copa is a joke, they make up their own rules. They moved me from an exit row because I couldn’t speak spanish and wouldn’t be able to understand instructions from a crew member if there was an emergency.”

  25. For Maureen and Boobaholic: The rule on both domestic and international flights is PAX must be able to speak English, since only it is the language to be used by FAs during an emergency. Just as cockpit crew must conduct all communications with ATC in English, FAs must be able to give emergency instructions in English.

    I’ve actually been given exit row seating preference on Lufthansa’s domestic flights in Germany, since I speak English (in addition to German). Ditto for Air France on their domestic flights, Iberia, and the list goes on.

    On the flip side, I’ve seen (American Airlines/american eagle) gate agents assign exit row boarding passes to, and board Spanish speaking passengers who could not speak a word of English. Then the FA had to re seat them when they did their exit row briefing. I knew it was going to happen, since I was standing by for the flight and watching it all play out at the gate. The exit row seats were the last ones open with two seats together, and there were three of them traveling. One of the men spoke enough English that he understood the boarding passes and explained the boarding process to his traveling companions in Spanish. He and one of the other men got the two exit row seats. I got the last seat on the plane in the row immediately forward of the exit row.

    On my way to my seat I tipped off the FA and volunteered to sit in the exit row. You can guess the rest; changed seats with the Spanish speaking (and rather bewildered) man. Good to know never fly Copa. Ever.

  26. Larry Frabitore and others, it isn’t ‘just’ a matter of following rules and, yes, customers (remember them?) throw a fit.

    As an old guy, one of the huge changes I have observed over the years is the ever greater gulf between the rule-makers and those interpreting and enforcing the ‘rules’ vis-a-vis the customer.

    Where once I could ask to see the manager or discuss calmly and reasonably the situation, customers are now so far removed from the enforcers or the rule-makers, there are no alternatives.

    Airlines are not the only examples of this, but they are a major illustration.

    Recently I flew American Airlines from a mid-sized western city to a smaller city in Mexico. It totaled four flights and I swear I was confronted with four different sets of regulations and, ultimately unpleasantnesses.

    I was forced to buy a full-fare first class ticket for the first two flights, even though there was no first class seat for the second of the two flights going. At the “hub” I was paged, told that I had to claim my checked bag and pay to have it re-checked despite having a first class ticket, but no seat. The reply to my protestation: “yes, that’s the problem, you are not traveling in first class.”

    I was then told that I could not use my cane while I retrieved the bag, because the cane had already been checked as carry-on. HUH? But, it is a different flight on a different plane.
    Reply: “Sir, I don’t make the rules.”

    When I arrived in Mexico, their immigration and customs people threw fits themselves because the AA crew had given out the wrong forms and told all passengers the wrong information. Again, according to them. The passengers were then treated as naughty children who had bad parents.

    Once you receive enough of that kind of treatment, no wonder people explode. No one is “responsible,” there is no one to whom passengers can appeal, no one is in charge.
    Frontline personnel have my sympathy, but only so much. They have accepted enforcing those very rules they tell us they are not responsible for making.

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