United First Class Passenger Gets Man Booted From Plane After He Pushed Her During Boarding

A United Airlines Global Services member shares that their family got a passenger kicked off a flight after that man behaved badly towards their sister – shoving her to get on the aircraft first.

  • They’d given their sister honeymoon flight awards in first class
  • On the way back they connected through Houston onto the same flight back to their home town in Florida
  • They boarded with Global Services and 1K, and brought their sister and brother-in-law along who were in first class (and therefore ‘just’ group 1)

That’s when things got nasty. Another passenger shoved her:

When my sister went to scan her boarding pass, a man behind her said “you shouldn’t be here, I have priority”. She replied with “you know, it pays to be kind sometimes”. The man said “how’s this for being kind?” and proceeded to bump into her, knocking her off balance. This man was about three times the size of my sister.

She told us what happened once we got to our seats since she was behind us so we didn’t see this as it happened. She swapped seats with her husband so she wouldn’t be in the aisle while that man walked past.

United Airlines First Class During Boarding

A flight attendant asked for details of what had happened and “whether she felt safe on the plane with that man on board.” The crewmember conferred with the pilots, and then the gate agent “approached the man a few rows behind us and told him that he could either get off the plane or they would make him get off the plane.” He walked off.

United Airlines First Class During Boarding

Shoving is a bad idea. Getting ahead of one other passenger certainly isn’t worth it, even if you think that person shouldn’t be boarding ahead of you. What I’m most interested in here are the suppositions we make about other passengers.

  • Twenty years ago there was a FlyerTalk thread in the Continental Airlines forum that stretched for 79 pages called “looking young & being elite” talking about the experience being given short shrift as a customer and passenger as employees assumed they’re a general member and a coach passenger. People would get told to get out of the priority check-in and boarding line, for instance, assuming they didn’t belong there.

  • I still remember reading a trip report from Ben Schlappig maybe 15 years ago where he was flying Turkish Airlines first class aboard a leased Jet Airways Boeing 777, and as he boarded for first class a business class passenger shoves past him saying “business class.” The business class passenger mind just couldn’t comprehend a young kid flying first (and may not have even known about such a thing as true first class).

Historically women were a small minority of first class passengers, as they made up a smaller percentage of regular business travelers and elite frequent flyers. Some of that reflected average preferences (fewer preferred to become road warriors, Monday to Thursday weekly flying consultants). Nonetheless, young women stood out in a sea of middle aged men – but often received dismissive treatment, including from female flight attendants.

Here, the woman was a first class passenger and assigned to group 1, boarding with her brother when Global Services and 1K members were called. She’s not a 1K, but it’s generally not a problem to board together in this circumstance. In any event, the sister wasn’t trying to skip ahead.

  • The benefit of early boarding is not to have to gate check your bags.
  • The benefit of Global Services and 1K boarding is not to have to stand in a queue for ages, to ensure you’re far enough towards the front of group 1, that you’ll have overhead bin space in the first class cabin or otherwise near your seat.

United Airlines First Class

The person doing the shoving here was accomplishing both of those things, whether the woman he shoved got on ahead of her or not. He didn’t stand in the group 1 queue, and still boarded ahead of group 1. Shoving was just an act of rage against someone he didn’t feel deserved to get on ahead of him, even though he was disadvantaged in no way at all.

There’s a weird status game going on here that at least most of us avoid turning into physical aggression. And as a part of that game we engage in assumptions about the people around us, and about who they are and therefore what they’re entitled to – and those assumptions are wrong more than we’re programmed to realize.

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. I remember a long trime ago when I got hassled at London Gatwick while checking in for a Continental Airlines flight to Houston by this “security” guy who had a go at me first for leaving the UK (I’m a Brit with a USA passport) calling me scum, then saying I couldn’t possibly afford BusinessFirst. I complained to the agent and then the airline and they apologized deeply and told me the guy had been fired.

  2. I’ve also witnessed very rude behavior by middle-aged white males against people of color and women. For example, I recently witnessed in FC a man in row 2 reach behind him bumping into a woman as he sought to remove his carryon from overhead bin above row 3. This is just one example. The level of incivility is just astonishing.

  3. @Marissa and @EHB … +1 . The level of incivility is more than astonishing … it is increasing .

  4. The guy was clearly in the wrong and needed to be de-planed. But a lot of issues could be resolved if US-based airlines would enforce gate procedures, and boarding orders. I’ve had to push pass people five deep crowding the gate. You seldom see this on Asian Airlines. They control the gate.

  5. Give these boors a break. They can’t help it. The situations didn’t meet RAGE (Real-old Anglo Guy Expectations) lol.

  6. Weird how you accept these stories at face value. It almost never actually happens exactly how one side claims. If there’s no 3rd party witnesses or video evidence, it’s safe to assume that it didn’t happen in the way they claimed. But you got your clicks, and some readers get to self righteously pile on about victimhood and such, so all is well I suppose.

  7. “The level of incivility is more than astonishing … it is increasing .” I could not agree more, and it actually frightens me. I’m 76, move a bit slower than before, and wonder just when (not “if”) I will, at some point, cross someone’s path who cares not a whit for anything but a self-assured and self-perceived “right” to violate my rights to a calm passage…

  8. The guy is a dick, but, some stupid comment about being kind is obnoxious and slightly obtuse. How about, “My sister is a 1K/GS and we’re boarding with them.”

    Or nothing at all.

  9. My husband and I were wearing jeans and my studio-branded sweatshirts as we approached the BA “priority” line. The service person began sliding in front of us and said “this is for First- and Business-class passengers only,” clearly inferring we were anything but. I thanked her as I kept walking, “good to know,” I said, and stopped long enough to ask “which way to the lounge?” She gave us a sigh and pointed a thumb toward the big yellow sign.

  10. Pushing someone is ASSAULT. I don’t care who is supposed to be boarding first. If you ASSAULT SOMEONE, you should be arrested.

  11. This is what happens when you give an elite card to some loser who only has status because he flies around doing the bidding of his corporate overlord.

    Living a sad life but airline status makes him feel important.

  12. I believe that engaging GS status is frowned upon. I generally avoid eye contact with them as a sign of respect.

  13. I’m sorry, Gary, but you’re wrong. She was cutting ahead. If you’re GS or 1K, you board with pre-boarding. She was not of that status. She belonged in Group 1 with the rest of First Class. It didn’t matter that she was traveling with a GS, she still belonged in Group 1. Period. The dude who pushed her was just trying to exercise his perk. I’ve seen this happen a number of times and didn’t care, because the guy was right.

    Boarding at pre-boarding is probably my most important perk that comes with being 1K. If my upgrade doesn’t clear and I’m stuck in cattle class, I want that guaranteed overhead bin space that comes with that early boarding. And it can be a close thing sometimes, even with Group 1. I was on an ORD-ORF flight one time and when active military was called, about thirty newly-minted sailors from Great Lakes with seabags and personal items flying to Norfolk got on. They started gate-checking bags near the start of Group 2, which never happens.

    I’m sick and tired of people just arriving to the gate who are in Group 4, see people getting on during pre-boarding, and try to muscle in. I’m also sick of 1Ks who try to board with Global Services. No, you wait until 1K is called. The gate agents at UA are nice people, but they’re a little meek in this instance.

  14. Like a lot of stories about “what happened on my flight,” this sounds completely made up. If a passenger pushed down another passenger while scanning boarding passes, that passenger wouldn’t have gotten on the plane in the first place, and security/cops would have been called. Not to mention, there would have been gasps and shouts from other witnessing passengers, and her family “in front of her” couldn’t possibly be unaware of the incident until everyone was boarded.

    These stories are made up for clicks on someone’s Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, or whatever, and then repeated by columnists, because they need so many columns per week.

  15. @H2oman it happened to me on Japan Airlines leaving Tokyo. There was a gate agent holding a sign that said end of business class line or something like that. So I got in line. Apparently, there was a dude behind her who was the actual end of line. Instead of saying something, he rammed his roller bag into the back of my calf all the way to the boarding gate. I didn’t want to start a whole thing where I could potentially miss my flight. He could have said the line ends behind me or something. He sounded American as I heard him order on the flight. Of note: I had checked my bag so bin space wasn’t an issue.

  16. It does seem odd that the GA didn’t notice this. They are standing right there and if she truly had scanned her pass so the guy could then see she didn’t have status (and I say this bc boarding passes for 1K also say Group 1, but we can pre-board) of any kind and nailed her hard enough to get ahead of her, it seems unlikely no one would notice, so at the very least something is off about this story.

    On the other hand as someone who is small, female, and looks young for my age but has been 1k for ages and who flies business or first internationally once a month on my own paid tickets, I get this at least once a year from someone. It is a pain and annoying and has ranged from someone demanding to see my boarding pass bc I can’t possibly qualify for pre-board to having FA assume my husband is the one with status when we travel together in first. I’ve also taken more time to look to see when there are women in business or first who are solo and have even had some fun conversations with women in line in a nice solidarity “go successful working women” kind of way. I will say that some other countries do handle boarding better, with a GA checking the lines to make sure folks are properly queued.

  17. I frequently play “guess who’s in first” while I wait at the gate. Been 1K for 12+ years and I’m still terrible at it in both directions. People I think would be in first, aren’t, and people who I think wouldn’t be, are. I’ve learned not to judge — I’m really bad at it.

  18. “…and proceeded to bump into her, knocking her off balance.”

    Wow, I hope she’s able to recover from that trauma.

  19. This woke weakness “do you feel safe” stuff is lame. Adults nowadays need to grow up. The “victim” and the “hater”. They are neither.

  20. I wonder if it would be possible for airlines to notify passengers’ corporate travel departments if there are incidents involving misbehaving business travelers. (I’ve seen a few). Nothing like instilling better behavior than the threat of having your boss find out.

    I don’t know the situation in this case. But there has to be something done about bad behavior on planes. At no point should ANYTHING ever get physical. Between anyone. Ever.

  21. Maybe there’s more to the story, but I’m really uncomfortable with a passenger being kicked off a plane by the pilot based on a “he said, she said” basis. What’s to stop a husband and wife telling a flight attendant they’re uncomfortable with a certain passenger and they don’t want to fly with him/her?

  22. The guy being a world class jerk doesn’t change the fact that she boarded before her group was called.

  23. Racism, sexism, ageism and even attire-ism hitting “premium” passengers at airports and on airplanes? Unfortunately, it is nothing new and continues — more so in some circumstances than other circumstances.

  24. Agree with others. Story sounds fake.

    He shoved her and nobody saw this at the gate?

    Only later did anyone realize this?

    And then the FA asks if she feels safe? Why would she feel unsafe. He allegedly only shoved her to get on the plane first?

    And then the FA and pilots just believed this one sided story and de-planed him?

    Very hard to believe.

    That said the premise is sound.

    I also only fly in First or Business and am not a straight white male. It’s not uncommon for a white male to try to push past me or question why I’m in line. Happened yesterday.

    Guy behind me says to his wife “All of these people in line can’t possibly be Diamonds” while looking straight at me expecting me to step aside. I replied that I had no idea but that they were also boarding First class. He kept looking at me I so showed him my red boarding pass. (First class is red. Coach is blue)

  25. Pushing someone is NOT assault. Pushing, hitting, etc is battery. Assault is verbal.

  26. Way over reaction! Seldom, if ever, does a situation happen as a F/A says it does. There is ALWAYS another story, and shame on the cockpit for advocating this.
    Trust me, as I was a 35 year Captain.

  27. “Historically women were a small minority of first class passengers, as they made up a smaller percentage of regular business travelers and elite frequent flyers. Some of that reflected average preferences (fewer preferred to become road warriors, Monday to Thursday weekly flying consultants). Nonetheless, young women stood out in a sea of middle aged men – but often received dismissive treatment, including from female flight attendants.”

    Woke and irrelevant nonsense that has no relation to the story. Consider me no longer a reader.

  28. Ah the days when I was young and Elite… now I’m just elite…

    I find the story plausible. It would not be surprising at all for a GA to witness a minor altercation and not respond appropriately in the moment… it’s challenging for a lot of people, or any people sometimes, to respond in the moment. Which leads to FA overhears conversation, GA verifies it happened, Captain supports GA removing PAX.

    To all the “She wasn’t supposed to be boarding” comments, people boarding in the group of the highest status in their traveling party is common, and I always board my companions with me even if they’re my status. I’ve never had any pushback from GAs on it so I assume this is, at least on United, permissible.

    Regardless, the response to boarding out of order is not physical contact, and especially not from another passenger. Passengers are not gate police.

  29. The airline should revoke his status in addition to removing him from the flight. You would see a middle age man in tears if that was the punishment for poor behavior.

    Be a better human and lean how to be a gentleman.

  30. Totally sus. I call cap. Part of the ‘hate white men’ narrative concocted by some social justice warrior trying to leverage social media for clicks and victimhood status.

  31. Just another example of a rude US white person feeling privileged and a sense of entitlement.

  32. No. One has a right to physically manhandle somebody this individual needs to attend anger management classes.I have had promblems with passengers sitting in my seat if the person will not get up I ask flight attendant to intervene.Bad idea to engage in confrontation with people better to count to 100 and ignore them never know reaction.

  33. O’Hare is my second home

    Have to call you out. We fly LH multiple times a year. Their boarding sign at gate says: Group 1 first class, Honored guest/Global, Group 2 Senator/1k. All depends on which Star Alliance Member you are flying on.

    This was quietly mentioned to me(1k) by gate agent that I was standing in front of 2 GS.

  34. I’ll take my group 4 boarding and accidentally hit you aisle sitters near the front of the plane in the head with my oversized backpack as I saunter down the aisle.

  35. Based on the storyline in this article, the man’s behavior was out of line. But the woman kicking him out based solely on hearsay from her sister, without even being there for the argument, and then flaunting her privilege to do so, is a bit over-the-top. Her one-sided blame game and power play suggest a my-way-or-the-highway attitude that might make you rethink your career choices if she were your boss.

  36. Were there witnesses? Or was the man removed based on a he said/she said scenario? The latter would be a concerning leap.

  37. I think it’s important if you are reading this and male and defending this guy, to ask yourself if you would say or do any of this to another male passenger your size or larger. The issue here is using physical size and gender to bully and physically intimidate someone instead of filing complaint w airlines.

  38. As a younger Latina female flyer this happens all the time. 1Ks elbowing me out of the way because I don’t look 1K. I’m Global Services.

  39. Over the past 20 years of flying, I have come to learn that most high-ranking medallions/unpublished-tier status frequent flyers are jerks who have undiagnosed and/or untreated mental illnesses. And this category includes all genders.

  40. Sad to say this type of thing happens quite frequently on all carriers. I’m a white female in my 60s temporarily using a cane while awaiting orthopedic surgery. and I always fly first class. I have to fight to get through the scrum of entitled men to board first, and I always politely say excuse me please. If there’s a line for handicapped boarding they grudgingly move aside and give me a contemptuous side eye. Not all of course but there’s usually at least one. And they’re all ages of white guys who look like they could be related to me. Class and age don’t matter; they can be college bros or the rare guy my age still wearing a suit jacket. Before I started using a cane and just did first class boarding it wasn’t uncommon to have some guy behind me repeatedly bang his carry-on into my legs or my bag as we waited in line. I used to wish a video of those guys could magically be sent to their wives, bosses, and clergy.
    No wonder airline staff call these guys gate lice.

  41. Pushing someone never is ok. It’s assault. But in venues with lots of people (airports, concerts, ball games) it happens often. It’s the nature of the beast. We just call it jostling, whether it’s intentional or not.

    But the fault also lies with the Airlines. Despite all the Jocelyn, there is a boarding process and a boarding priority. If they would do a better job of adhering and enforcing, this would’ve been avoided. I’m not excusing the pushing, but the passenger who invited her sister on board with her started the whole thing.

  42. Of absolutely freakin’ course this incident happened on a Florida-bound plane. Florida absolutely is the self-centered prick colony of North America (and apparently the deplaned prick is from Florida). Reason #2,539,430 why I will continue to avoid Florida in favor of much better locales around the world.

  43. I remember an incident a good thirty years ago, when I was flying around the world almost constantly, mostly on AA, and I was Executive Platinum. I was waiting at the front of the queue to board a flight at Tokyo Narita when some guy tried to shove past me, saying “Platinum.” I blocked his path and said “Executive Platinum, you can wait your turn.” He muttered something like “status used to mean something” as he slunk back to where he came from.

    Just because somebody looks young does not mean they aren’t a frequent flyer and a valued customer of the airline — maybe more valued than you.

  44. Did anyone witness the incident? Maybe I missed that. Hopefully they did not get kicked off simply off her word. If the guy did it, then he should be off. The article was written like ” look what I was able to do”. And the First Class part did not contribute value to the story

  45. Definitely rude behavior but kicking the person off the flight? I presume she answered in the affirmative that she didn’t feel “safe” with him on board, despite 100+ other passengers including her brother. Sounds like a bit of a Karen.

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