Woman Heading To Aunt’s Funeral Kicked Off American Airlines Flight

Passengers bring their own life experiences and (emotional) baggage with them to the airport. So do flight attendants. We also have different cultural expectations and behaviors. And then we’re trapped inside a metal tube together for several hours. Sometimes that goes very badly, and we all need a bit more patience and understanding.

Tatiana Zambrano was flying from New York JFK to Cali, Colombia on Wednesday on board American Airlines fight AA2161. She says a flight attendant told her to hang up her phone call. She was “talking to a relative in [her] original country.” Her aunt had died that day and she was traveling to be with family and for the funeral. The flight attendant told her that by continuing to talk she was breaking federal law, she says. And that’s correct.

She didn’t get off the phone right away. She was understandably shaken, and she didn’t comply. And that’s when things went sideways. As she explains,

He comes back a second time and roughly touches my shoulder and tells me that I am breaking a federal law. And I demand respect from him and he starts yelling at me that he didn’t want to talk to me and I told the captain to disrespect the laws and they took me off the plane and there are no more flights..to Colombia and I feel physically and verbally attacked and with the pain of my dead relative.

Several things are going on here,

  • It is absolutely the rule that passengers have to stop talking on their cell phones before the plane takes off. That’s not just a flight attendant request or airline policy, it’s a federal requirement.

  • One passenger shouldn’t be able to delay a flight for everyone, although resolving the situation peacefully rather than delaying a flight to remove a passenger means less of a delay for everyone.

  • If airline crew believe a passenger is going to cause problems in the air, creating a safety hazard or diversion risk, it’s still better to deal with that on the ground.

  • And misunderstandings and misjudgments abound.

So what do you do? American Airlines says their purpose is “Caring For People On Life’s Journey.” I don’t think that happened here. It would have been better to take a moment to understand what was happening with this passenger. Knowing she’d just lost a family member, she wasn’t in the best position to quickly process the rule to get off the phone and being told more gently to do it might have helped. Letting her know that she needed to do it in order to make the trip to the funeral might have helped.

Frequently when a flight attendant knocks me with a galley cart, or otherwise bumps into me, they’ll touch my shoulder and apologize. I always find it odd when someone touches me while apologizing for touching me. Tapping the woman for her attention, to emphasize the point, probably wasn’t a good idea here either.

There’s no disputing the woman was in the wrong for continuing to talk on the phone as her flight prepared to depart, and she was told to end the call. But a little compassion and understanding from where she was coming from seems to have been in order.

The flight to Colombia took off 24 minutes late, and arrived in Cali 35 minutes early – without Tatiana Zambrano having a way to make it to her family yesterday.

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 »

More articles by Gary Leff »


  1. I’ve heard Airport employees call a certain ethnic group of people derogatory, racist names, and even threatened their dignity, which led to an all out war.

    Remember it depends on how & what you say to someone, will determine what kind of reaction you will receive. Rather it be a positive or a negative reaction.

    We have to learn how to treat people by the way we want to be treated. This is called Having: Knowledge, Discernment, Respect and Wisdom, which more of us don’t have Now A days.

    I would like to say that certain people think that the rules don’t apply to them. They also feel that they have special privileges when it comes to them, WRONG! I’ve been assaulted, called every name but the Child of YHWH, Threatened, Lied On, I was even called an UNTOUCHABLE by what I thought was a Very Religious Person.

    I feel for the woman who lost her Loved one. But these policies & rules are put into place for EVERYONE’S SAFETY.

  2. “ compassion and understanding” for AA staff please and not the woman posting video to show how even more selfish she can be. Other posts already pointed out why I also don’t believe any of what she claims. Headline of story should not be not about her being a victim, which she clearly is not. Sorry she lost aunt. Glad she faced consequences for her actions which she takes no responsibility for. She should be ashamed for holding up flight and ignoring requests. She should be ashamed to post and generate further animosity towards AA staff doing their job well.

  3. Send a text if they know you are boarding a flight most people will say call me when you land or I’m about to take off will call you back. This not her first plane ride and now she can take another the boat and talk all she want on they way down there.

  4. Got to walk on egg shells now a days because everyone might be having an issue with life, whatever.

  5. The FA may have been a little blunt, but half these situations escalate because people want to argue instead of complying first, then discussing.

    People shouldn’t be on the phone on an airplane. It doesn’t matter that she was talking to relatives, Jesus himself, the president, et cetera. She was 100% in the wrong here. She should have hung up, and then apologized and explained the situation. Instead she chose not to comply, and argue, which usually indicates a lack of self control, and is a red flag that they may be a problem going forward.

  6. She just needed to hang up. Instead of doing that, she wanted to argue. Why does everyone think that the rules should not apply to them?

  7. Ma’am, would you please stop using your phone. We are getting ready to take off and all phones must be turned off. This is a Federal Goverment’s requirement. By not discontinuing your call, could be cause for removing you from the flight. (with a calm and compassionate way).

  8. Judging by her video dialogue with herself, it appears she was under the impression she was going to hit the litigation jackpot. She has zero credibility. The flight attendant can’t be blamed for following federal mandates. It’s his livlihood and duty.

  9. Thank you, flight attendant, for doing your job.

    Nothing worse than flying with the entitled, whether a Karen or proud parent of a screaming child. We’re all in this together and when we’re on your flight, you’re the boss.

  10. I believe everyone that has put their comment in works for the airlines, because all flight attendants are cracked up to be what you’re talking about. Because some of them can be rude, but if you be rude to them you’re at fault. And i know some of them can be in a bad mood. Me myself if i don’t have to communicate with them i don’t. Don’t get me wrong but, I know there are rude people that get on the plane and i pray every time i get on the plane that no one act stupid. And i do respect the flight attendants for the work they do on these planes, because be in the air is not a place for people to act crazy and that women on the plane was not acting crazy she just got caught in a bad situation.

  11. The woman was clearly wrong, and despite circumstances, should have gotten off the phone when requested. Maybe the flight attendant could have been a little more gentle, but this is not negociable. The fact that she is trying to accuse him of ‘assault’ is a clear indication that this is basically a prima donna looking for an excuse to sue.

  12. Sick of the funeral excuse. They are dead and not going anywhere. Not like you are missing a conversation with them

  13. If the flight attended would have been more diplomatic he might have said ,! sorry the flight is at risk, I will give you a minute to say goodbye.

    This woman was involved with her grieving of her relative,

  14. Dr Frieda, you assume the FA wasn’t nice the first time. There are announcements beforehand. And the FA personally spoke to her in addition.

  15. This young lady is a victim. She is a victim of entitlement. Another Karen who thinks the sun rises and sets on her.

  16. Typical young adult who thinks the rules do not apply to them . Do the cops give people numerous warnings all the time ? Flight attendants deserve respect and the DOT, FAA, and Congress in general are all about the pilots . It’s a very sexist industry and that’s why I wish I could quit soon . Increase the fines for disruptive passengers now .

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.