Passenger Tells What ‘Really Happened’ in Viral Video Of Flight Attendant Who Grabbed Stroller

Flight attendant Sarah Steeger tweets what purports to be another passenger’s view of what happened leading up to the video of an altercation between an American Airlines flight attendant and a passenger that went viral.

American Airlines quickly suspended the flight attendant and said this incident didn’t represent their values.

Here’s what flight attendant Steeger, who says the narrative around the video “didn’t sound quite right”, shares:

While this version of events is meant to exonerate the flight attendant and lay blame for the situation on the woman who brought a stroller onto the plane (when American Airlines does not allow strollers in cabin), I don’t think it comes close to doing that.

  • This demonstrates that the passenger was allowed to board with her stroller, and lends support for the claim that she was told she could do so. American should have explained that the stroller would have to be checked at the gate or at the bottom of the jetway.

  • The flight attendant, in this telling, reportedly said there was no room for the stroller not that it wasn’t allowed. That’s different than blaming her for ‘breaking American’s rules and thus causing the situation’ as some have wanted to do.

  • This telling underscores that the flight attendant exacerbated the confronation — that he decided she was ‘unfit to fly’ (yet the yelling and threats he offers in the video suggest he’s fit to fly?) and on his own without help sought to physically move her off the plane by lifting the stroller over his head and past her.

  • The only thing I see that’s actually critical of the mother is the claim that she pushed the flight attendant after he grabbed her stroller.

  • Criticizing the first class passenger who spoke up for the mother for ‘faux chivalry’ is a judgment, not a new fact or description of what happened. Supposedly the teller of this version saw what happened ‘in the back of the plane’ while claiming this other first class passenger simply could not have seen it. That’s possible but hard for this person to know.

Different people can look at the same incident in different ways, as is made clear from the comments on my posts on this issue.

It’s clear though that the woman was permitted to board with something that American doesn’t allow in the cabin, she was confronted by a flight attendant who physically grabbed a stroller and lost his cool rather than seeking help from another crew member who might have been better able to communicate with this woman. Perhaps the female flight attendant in the video might have had better luck, or at least been able to reset the situation. Instead the flight attendant in the video exploded, not just at the mother but at another passenger who stepped in as the woman cried uncontrollably at the situation unfolding in front of her.

Flight attendants have a difficult job, not in the sense of manual labor but dealing with people of varied backgrounds under challenging conditions. Flying is incredibly (“small d”) democratic, with people from all backgrounds thrown together inside a metal tube each bringing their own issues to the plane. It’s not easy to meet safety regulations, provide service, and work with people whose communication styles are so varied.

None of which excuses the way this incident was handled — let alone the offensive, bureaucratic and offensive excuse offered by the President of American’s flight attendants union.

Update: Matthew says this account comes via Gailen David who was previously fired as a flight attendant by American Airlines and sued for publicly releasing confidential passenger travel information.

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. You’re a shooin for the Obsessive Coverage of Viral Airline Videos Pulitzer this year.

  2. The faux crying is the best part :p Comes across as a person looking for an out of court settlement pay day :p

  3. I actually like Gary’s “obsessive” coverage of these viral videos because he typically lends a very detailed, analytic approach to an emotionally-charged issue. I don’t always agree with Gary, but I appreciate his methodical approach.

  4. I call bullsh*t on the ‘new information’. It just doesn’t pass the smell test that the male FA was perfectly calm and behaved and then, poof, was yelling “hit me, hit me!!!”.

    And why would someone put in the “5)”th point like that–trashing the man by writing “faux chivalry”?

    At this point it’s verified video versus ‘someone who said someone else said something.’

  5. One disturbing feature of the video is the demeanor of the pilot-in-command. He looks terribly bored and unconcerned by the entire event. “Another sobbing mom, another possibly injured baby, another delayed flight, ho-hum.” Could he look like he is in command of the plane? Pretend? The video does provide a glimpse into the Us vs. Them feeling of the crew vs. the passengers, which passengers should note.

    Flying American Airlines and United both feel like a bare-knuckled monetary transaction. Their web sites suck, too, as they offer a range of fares and add-on seat upgrades to make purchasing a difficult and lengthy process. Delta tries harder, and even says thank you at the gate. Southwest still is the best small “d” democratic carrier. You get what you pay for and feel safe with their crews. And you can buy a ticket in a couple of minutes.

  6. FA: “Hit me, hit me.”

    Pax: “Nope.”

    FA: “You have disobeyed a direct order from a member of the crew. Off the plane with you.”

  7. Why can’t passengers just do what they are told??? I recently flew and people trying to put things in overhead that are crammed already, hitting other passengers in the head with their bags, just rude. If a airline employee tells you that you can’t do something don’t do it. You couldn’t pay me enough $$ to be an attendant, it’s like being a cop, no one likes you and will disrespect you if you enforce a rule. If they indeed tell her that the stroller could not be stored overhead then it can’t.

  8. This statement underscores the fact that a complete picture of exactly what happened remains unknown and cannot be provided by any single individual (except perhaps the woman who is now in Argentina). We don’t know what the woman was told at the gate for example. Even this account by a flight attendant (was she working the flight?) is somewhat suspect as to how she observed all of the matters she recounts.

    The fact that the woman is in Argentina means that it appears that sustaining any disciplinary action against the FA will be extremely difficult. She would be the key witness in any arbitration. I doubt she would be willing to return to the US to testify or even have a video deposition in Argentina where she would be questioned by company lawyers and subject to cross examination by union lawyers. Other passengers would also be key witnesses, including the person who took the video. Will they get involved?

    In my view, the person most at risk in this incident is the interloper who exposed himself to potential civil and criminal liability under state and federal law.

  9. I appreciate the FA’s view of the situation—it provides context (vs. the limited view of the incident provided in the video).

    The belligerent FA was clearly acting inappropriately toward the faux chivalry passenger—-but I think many of us have experienced the prima donna passenger who is clueless about air travel, oblivious to the inconvenience they’re providing to dozens of other passengers, and then indignant/hysterical when they’re not catered to. Hard to sympathize with Ms. Fake Tears in this situation.

  10. Gary, there are new details emerging:

    “…We’re told the woman had the stroller tagged by employees at gate check-in and was asked to leave it at the bottom of the jet bridge before boarding the flight so it could be stored underneath the plane.”

    Unless the Argentenian woman has been living under a rock I presume she has flown before (how did she get to the US in the first place?) and knows that you don’t bring a stroller onto a plane. So, for whatever reason, she continued to disregard instructions and insisted on dragging an oversized stroller down the aisle.

    Agreed, the entire AA coud have handled this better? Why wasn’t a Spanish-speaking person (pax or crew) brought in to translate, making the instructions clear and indisputable? And the male FA….well, I just won’t go there with that. And the crew, rightly or wrongly, are given the complete authority–and therefore the responsibilty–to handle difficult situations such as this, because that is their job.

    But as lawyers say, there is always more than one side to a story.

  11. You know when I first watched the video the AA employee seems like a gate agent and not a FA. Weird.
    I don’t say this lightly but regardless of what happened the AA employee that offered to get physical with a customer should be fired. Again I’m not just saying this lightly. It’s bad behavior for a person that should be thick skinned in these situations.

  12. Quite frankly I suspected that the women wasn’t completely innocent in this altercation from the beginning. Thanks to the United video, seen around the world, now every passenger is empowered to argue, demand their rights and in the case of Mr. First class, be a blowhard. Hasn’t anyone who has ever flown before noticed the airline checks your stroller at the door. If you can’t manage two kids, luggage and another stroller don’t fly alone or ask for help when you board – in kind manner, just sayin.

    There are always two sides to every story.

  13. I still say we do not have enough information to make a value judgment.

    I think the woman was acting, and the chivalrous man was not acting appropriately, and only escalating a bad situation. The captain was standing there, and he is in charge of the ship. The man was clearly trying to take over everything in an aggressive manner. Absolutely no call for this. It isn’t as if the woman was still being beaten in front of his very eyes.

    The captain’s demeanor may be odd, but we do not know what the captain did or said before they started filming the video.

    The full story will only become known as more and more people come forward with their versions of what the saw. Gary, I think you are being too tough on this FA. Even the best trained folks are human, and break protocol upon too much provocation. President Obama broke decorum and snapped at people a few times when provoked. Also, Queen Elizabeth II broke proper decorum a few times when aggressively confronted. These are two of the best trained and disciplined people in the world.

    I hope you continue to follow this story and report to us. My money is on the passenger knowing exactly what she was doing after being told explicitly (and possibly in Spanish) what she should and should not do, and that she tried to get away with it.

  14. As I have said before: none of these aircraft cell phone videos comes close to showing the complete story of what transpired in any of these recent situations, so to make a judgment based on incomplete information is unfair ridiculous.

  15. Do we know for sure the stroller was gate tagged? If so, I’d agree that the pax knew what she was doing and probably got away with it in other places. That said the FA was still a dick. I’ve witnessed plenty of occurances of jerk FA’s just because they are God and can do it how they want and they usually aren’t being recorded and they purposely conceal their ID so reporting them becomes annoying extra step. Maybe there should be a cabin camera like on busses. I don’t ride busses pretty much ever but I also don’t hear many reports of dick bus drivers and they sure aren’t paid or trained like our world class FA’s.

    Lastly on the surface, I applaud the pilot for not getting involved in such a petty tit for tat what the plane hasn’t even pushed back from the gate.

  16. We obviously don’t have all the facts, but this version rings more true to me. The victim reminds me of my abusive ex who could turn on the tears as easily as she would a light switch. It got her all the attention and sympathy she craved from strangers while triggering bemusement among those who knew her.

  17. So? We all saw the video. The flight attendant should be fired just based on the way he acted in the video alone. What happened before the video was turned on doesn’t really matter. His conduct was still totally absurd. Most of this is what I believed happened anyway as I think all parties involved were totally wrong.

  18. None of this needed to happen. There are more psychologists per capita in Buenos Aires than anywhere else on the planet.

  19. This whole ‘victim’ thing is total BS. She knew what she was doing and those fake tears…not buying it. As for the whole macho man wannabe in first…they should have removed him as he was clearly unfit to fly.

    As for the stroller, even if it could fit in an overheard, it would take up the room of three suitcases taking space away from other passengers. Why should she get any special treatment? Because she has a baby? That’s her choice and not the fault of others so they should not be penalized. I personally think subjecting others to screaming and crying babies for hours on end is wrong and there should be a minimum age to fly. But that’s a different story.

  20. Seems to me passengers think if they scream and cry loud enough they’ll get what they want. The rules are there for a reason. Follow them or keep off the planes! And quit ruining it for everyone else. Ridiculous how everyone was delayed because of someone who thought they were better than everyone else and the rules don’t apply to them!

  21. While I’m not automatically sympathetic to flight attendants who aren’t sympathetic to passengers’ problems, count me among those who feel we just don’t know enough and likely won’t know enough to know what happened. Maybe another video or lots of passenger accounts surface. But short of that, we’re simply left speculating about the roots of the dispute.

    Among the many possible scenarios, part of this could boil down to simple miscommunication…the gate agent might have told the passenger to gate check; she didn’t understand what that meant (maybe because of language difficulties); if in fact language difficulties were at play, she didn’t understand the FA; the chivalrous/assertive/aggressive F passenger didn’t understand what had transpired beforehand; etc., etc.

    But again, this scenario is simply speculation as well.

  22. I think the guy who repeatedly gets up and injects himself into the situation deserves some of the blame for the drama. If he was informed about what happened, having seen the entire incident, and wants to try to help that’s one thing. But instead he gets up and makes a bad situations significantly worse by threatening to fight people. What a jack@$$! I think someone watched the United video too many times.

  23. Bottom line-the stroller didn’t fit and needed to be taken off the plane and checked and put in baggage. No big deal! In my opinion the passenger should how allowed that without any hesitation-end of story.

  24. I want to know when Gary Leff commits suicide like former Flyertalk’s Cathay Pacific moderator B. Watson? Clearly, Gary is embezzling cash, like Watson, because he spends way too much time writing very long articles on his blog….leaving no time to work, create $40,000 “minimum spends” in 3 weeks, etc.

    You better lay blame on the illegal alien who brought in the stroller on Flight 591, the illegal alien who filmed the incident, posted it on-line (with appended ads) without the permission of the airline and the people he filmed, and the fact that the jerk who got up and threatened airline staff by “knocking his lights out” better get arrested by the Feds quick (remember he asked if that was the flight attendant before he even stood up).

    Now shut up, Kim Jong Gary. On RT you looked just like that fat dog eating punk from N. Korea—-double chin, overweight, LDL overdue chunk of cheese.

  25. Mountain being made out of a mole-hill. No-one comes out well from this story including the overly dramatic passenger who should just have done what she was asked in the first place. I’ve seen parents being argumentative over strollers on board before – just because you have kids you do not become special, rules continue to apply. As for the FA – well he clearly needs a new job probably away from the front line….Story over now, this has only received the coverage it has done because of United and Dr Dao.

  26. I would like to hear from the other passengers in the back of the plane as to what really happened

  27. Did the flight attendant actually encourage the man to hit him? ( my speakers don’t work)

    FIRED. Not a difficult decision.

    Note to Gary: Per a criminal defense attorney I know in Austin, if someone in a bar encourages you to throw the first punch, you can legally hit that person . Yeah, I find it hard to believe but you can also take your kid into a bar in Texas. Most bars won’t allow it because ,”How do you prove it’s your kid?”–and they don’t want to lose their liquor license.

    Of course, given that attorney I know has a drinking problem, I’ve concluded he’s
    a) Not ever representing me
    b) Likely does know the law as he’s been involved in Texas bar fights

  28. @Gretchen: A veteran FA with AA told me he gets $68 / hour + per diem for overnight.

    Are you sure you don’t want the job? That’s more than the pilot on a regional.

  29. Gary, you’re making some assumptions here. You say that “this version of events is meant to exonerate the flight attendant and lay blame for the situation on the woman who brought a stroller onto the plane…” Or… this version could be what lead to the events before the video and the mom just might to blame for escalating things. You assume the passenger was “allowed” to board with two strollers . Because someone gets on, doesn’t mean they were allowed; how many times have you seen people get on with bags that don’t fit in the overhead bin? Does that mean they’re allowed? So often, the ops agent taking boarding passes just looks the other way and leaves it to the flight attendants to deal with.

    Sorry, but I think that someone who drags two strollers onto a flight and then loses it when they have to check them is unfit to fly.

  30. This story honestly sounds like something comping from a racist, 60 year old white heterosexual male.

  31. Gary Leff says:
    April 23, 2017 at 1:03 pm
    Preserving rather than deleting the gem above from ‘Happyglostock’ a very long-time Flyertalk member.

    I’m good w/your deleting it Gary!

  32. I agree there is a lot of blame to go around for this issue, from the FA to the lady, the pilot and the hero in shining armor. And even if we’d been there, we probably still disagree on who is “at fault”.
    There are a lot of contributing factors to this type of incident: diverse passengers with their issues; a sense of entitlement/DYKWIA/it’s all about me among some passengers; a tough job for the crew under pressure, etc…
    All of these apply to flights all around the world though and if you have ever been on a LCC flight in Asia, you have seen much worse “passengers with issues” or “entitlement” and crews with a tough job! Yet, they still usually manage to avoid this type of confrontation. The key difference to the US is that the flight attendants accept their role as providing customer service as part of their job. While most flight attendants in the US do that, too, there is a large enough number who (ever since 9/11 and/or declining FA perks?) view their job as “safety professionals” with god-like powers over “them”, who seem to resent that their job involves SERVING customers – and fail to solve this type of problem and instead make it worse! Flight attendants every day prove that you can keep passengers safe and provide good customer service. It’s time that the US airlines deal with the FA who don’t want or can’t do it. And, no, that’s not a “union issue” – Lufthansa and other European carriers have much stronger unions but would not allow people like this FA to fly! The US3 need to recognize that they can’t be successful without or against their customers and act accordingly!

  33. Woman’s fault people need to listen to the flight crew … if you don’t like the rules take the bus …..was she going to pop up a pack-n-play when the flight reached cruising altitude? ….

  34. The state of confusion the Captain shows in watching this unfold is concerning. Absolutely a great example of “hands off approach” to management.

  35. Mr. Leff, you said in here that multiple times that it was a failure of American to “let” her bring the strollers. I wasn’t there so I can’t say for certain but with my experience as a gate agent and a baggage handler I can almost guarantee you she was told at least once of not multiple times that the strollers wasn’t allowed. As a matter of fact it is part of the boarding announcements. I can’t tell you the number of times people became hostile to me when they were told their bag wouldn’t fit and needed to be put in cargo. A lot of people just don’t care and will attempt to do whatever they want regardless of how many warnings they are given. Also if there is a parent with 2 children plus bags who looks to be struggling already I us ed d to tell them that they can use the stroller to the end of the jet bridge and to leave it there before boarding because it would be much easier for them to do instead of carrying 2 children and their baggage at the same time, I’m willing to bet 1 of these two scenarios happened and the mother either didn’t understand everything or tried to get away with bringing them on.

  36. Agree w/Paul S. The captain should be getting called in for some serious conversations about his management of the issue. That plane is HIS to manage and regardless of fault, he should have had everyone involved taken off to resolve/de-escalate rather than just standing back and letting it continue to get worse inside the airplane. Conflict happens, but there is no reason to allow it to escalate inside a plane like that when there’s still a door open.

  37. It’s clear this gentleman does not need to be a flight attendant. What I saw in the video is a man who felt power and the fact he egged the man to hit him is clear indication the problem began well before the video was taken. Beside why was this woman not allowed to board first given her babies and why are flight attendants not attentive to their duties? Regardless of what transpired in the back of the plane, I am sure some assistance or care could have gone a long way. The woman spoke English and if flight attendants simply explain the situation, I am sure passengers would be more receptive. What’s happening is the corporation is creating this problem in their fuselage by experimenting with people’s emotions. It’s no longer about safe air travel, but the creation of “classes” and our history shows that those in the lower class will revolt. I just don’t understand, but I think flying is about as bad as when people traveled by bus. There is no more decency in flying the friendly sky and I for one now avoids air travel as best I can. I would rather drive – thank you.

  38. I absolutely KNEW the woman/mother was putting on a performance. Knew it. She wants a payout. As soon as she saw someone filming, out came the tears. The flight attendant didn’t seem that mad. He seemed calm. This woman was told over and over to check the stroller in as a bag which is why the airline crew either outside of the plane or inside TAGGED THE STROLLER!!!!!!! It got tagged because it was not allowed on the flight. The woman decided to be an entitled pain in the butt and took the stroller on anyway and as soon as the attendants realized she had done this, they told her, no ma’am, you cannot take this on the flight and she ignored them. Sorry. You gotta listen to flight attendants and the crew and do what they say. I think the number of flight attendants/crew who are abusive is minimal. Passengers (especially younger ones) are a pain in the a$$ and make things difficult for everyone. I actually feel sorry for the crew of planes because I cannot imagine how stressful their jobs really are.

  39. The woman is a total fake. This kind of behavior should never be rewarded. The airlines make it very clear what you can bring on a plane. It’s people like her that make flying so difficult.

  40. I have travelled with a tiny baby and two small children on 8 and 9 hour flights and have kept my tribe in total control so I don’t take kindly to noisy kids but here it was the mother crying….don’t blame the children, lol. What is true is that they would always let me take the stroller up to the plane and then they would take it to the hold. Since I had to wait for them to bring it back up on arrival I sometimes was the last person to leave the plane, once the stroller broke and the captain was the only one there and he actually pushed it while I carried my sleeping kids….I’m still laughing!!!

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