The Encounter: Being Kicked Off a Flight by TSA
When you’re flying into Moscow from the US you’re usually the minority on-board. At the time we weren’t allowed to discuss why we were going to Russia (adopting Princess Two) so I had learned to keep my head down, lower my voice and limit my English. Thus, I delved into the new edition of US Weekly. The Husband on the other hand was admiring the scenery and soaking in the “culture” on the plane before we were fully re-immersed in it. And that’s when it hit him. Yes, actually hit him. The Husband got an elbow to the leg from across the isle as two passengers got into a “little scuffle”. One man from the States and another from Russia.
I’ve witnessed a few fights in my life but never one on a plane. I was actually scared. I mean really, two big people yelling and pushing each other in a confined space with you right next to them (with no exit strategy) is a bit unnerving. The poor flight attendant along with a few other passengers had to break things up. Yes, I put my hand on The Husbands leg and urged him to keep to his seat and reminded him we were on our way to meet with a judge in Russia regarding custody of our daughter. Not the time to get into ANY trouble.
Apparently, the man from Russia had a daughter in her tweens who had been seated away from the rest of the family. As there was an empty seat next to her (on an isle of three seats, the American and child had an empty seat between them) the father came to sit next to his daughter so she wasn’t alone. Good Dad move in my opinion. Apparently, the American didn’t think so, or would have preferred the seat to remain vacant. Regardless, there were words between the two and with the language barrier things got a bit “heated”. It was actually the American who escalated things. The man from Russia continued to apologize and reiterate he simply wanted to sit next to his child in the vacant seat. Another man from Russia in the isle in front of them who also had a vacant seat next to him volunteered to change seats with him. The American was happy as he got his way.
I was embarrassed. For the American. For the fact that he represented my country. I kept my head down. I didn’t speak. I read my magazine while he popped two sleeping pills and got cozy and fell asleep in his seat.
And then it happened. A voice on the overhead speaker broke the silence, “My apologies for the delay. I have been made aware of an incident on the aircraft that is unacceptable and will not be tolerated. The doors have been opened and TSA officers will be be boarding. We ask that everyone remain seated.”
Wow. Now the question was who was going to be escorted off the plane? The American? The Russian?
Three BIG and very intimating men in uniform walked toward us, lead by a petite, uniformed woman who did all the talking. They had to wake the American; remember he popped sleeping pills. He had no clue why he was being asked to deplane. Really?!?
I was proud. Proud of my captain. He (in a small way) saved the reputation of the few Americans on that plane. Or at least I felt he did… But I had one question. What was going to happen to this man? Did he get arrested? Did he get fined with a ticket? Would he lose the money he spent on his flight? Would he be allowed to fly on United again? Would he get to Russia? Not that I really cared what happened to this specific individual; he was a jerk, but I had never thought about it and wanted to know. After-all people are kicked off for less crimes, such as a crying baby or an offensive t-shirt.
The flight-attendants on-board weren’t sure what would happen when I asked them (in private, at the back of the airplane at 2am). But my girlfriends who are also flight attendants filled me in on the process after the fact. I was told it totally depends on the offensive. That makes sense. In this instance the man was probably booked on the next flight to Moscow and simply had to wait until it was time to leave.
The thing I never knew though was that every airline has a contract of carriage that lists the violations that can get you banned from boarding or even kicked off a plane. Most include things that prohibit passengers from doing anything that endangers the safety or comfort of fellow flyers (that can include a lot of things). The big thing though is that these violations are subject to interpretation by airline employees. Hence the reason why we see people getting kicked off planes for smelling badly, wearing offensive t-shirts, crying kids, etc. Everyone interprets things a bit differently. (Check out Seven Ways to Get Kicked Off a Plane on SmarterTravel.com.)
Have you ever been kicked-off a flight by TSA? Witnessed someone being kicked-off?