On Friday American Airlines flight 3508 from Pensacola to Miami returned to the Pensacola airport when a passenger on board said she had a medical emergency. Only there was no medical emergency. She just wanted an upgrade.
The flight, operated by American’s wholly owned subsidiary Envoy Air, was back on the ground for about an hour. Everyone else besides that woman was delayed about an hour and a half. She, however, is under arrest.
When the plane was inflight the woman explained she had an emergency and “wanted a bigger seat.” Since there was a medical issue reported the pilot declared an emergency. Once back on the ground the woman revealed that “she was faking the medical condition to get a bigger seat.”
The the woman refused to deplane in Pensacola, so everyone was removed from the aircraft. Fear of coach may well be a medical condition, and she’s being held under the state’s Baker Act which allows temporary involuntary confinement for mental health evaluation.
Self-upgrading to business class has never been considered okay. It also rarely ever works. I’ve seen people try it and they’re always sent back to coach. Usually they’re a bit sheepish as they head back, sometimes offering some innocent-sounding explanation about how they thought it was the same cabin (no they didn’t!) and the seat was empty anyway.
Passengers who refuse to move get the David Dao treatment. In fact here’s video of a passenger on United being dragged off of a Shanghai – Newark flight after trying to upgrade himself to business class several times and stealing champagne.
Asking for an upgrade seems like a better strategy than faking it. Coming up with a plausible reason for needing the upgrade (such as feeling unwell) seems better still. But faking a medical emergency inflight isn’t a good idea. Diversions are costly, and though the woman may never face charges she certainly would have been better off taking the 1 hour 40 minute flight in her assigned seat.
American Airlines Embraer ERJ-145
In this case asking for a bigger seat was especially odd, since the aircraft was an Embraer ERJ-145 which has no premium cabin and the only seats that aare even considered ‘Main Cabin Extra’ are exit row seats. Even if the exit row was empty, it seems unlikely someone with medical distress would be moved there.