How Not to get Kicked Off an Airplane Flight

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SIA A380-800 Interior Panorama

One of my coworkers Mike flew in from New Jersey this week on a United flight from Newark to San Francisco. He was sitting in the aisle seat in the exit row and on either side of him in the middle seats was a young couple that he described as “San Francisco hipsters”. The woman happened to have a cat carrier and the flight attendant informed her that she couldn’t sit in the exit row with the cat carrier.

She threw a fit using abusive language and taking an attitude. She did eventually get up to change seats but she was clearly still very mad at the flight attendant and was using language that the flight attendant considered inappropriate. The flight attendant talked to the woman and said “You can’t talk to me that way. I need to know that you can follow instructions that I may have to give you. Can you do that?” The woman responded, “get out of my face”.

At this point, the flight attendant went and got her supervisor who again came to the woman and said: “we need to know that you can follow instructions that we may give and that you’re going to behave”. The woman again repeated, “get out of my face”. At this point, the supervisor went up to the front of the cabin to talk to the pilot and the words came over the PA “flight attendants disarm your doors”. The woman was escorted off the plane.

It’s interesting to note, Mike informs me, that this whole time the husband was sitting there reading his magazine. Now that they are about to escort his wife off the plane he got up and asked: “should I get off with you”. “No”, she said, “you stay”. “Should I take the cat”. “You can’t take the cat! You can’t sit in the exit row!”. After she left the plane the husband turned to Mike and said “I’m just glad that she had some edible marijuana before the flight or this could’ve really turned out bad. I hope they don’t search her.”

How Not to get Kicked Off an Airplane Flight

You would think that not getting kicked off a plane would be an easy task, but in this year where celebrities like Alec Baldwin the TV star and Kevin Smith the movie director have both been kicked off of a flight perhaps this is something we need to review.

1. Get over yourself 

What part of your experience so far with the airline has led you to the erroneous conclusion that you are the sun and the moon to them and that they only live to make you happy? You didn’t board by name, you boarded by number or by group. Even if they know who you are like Mr. Baldwin and Mr. Smith, frankly they aren’t that impressed. If you want that kind of service buy your own plane.

I’ve had the opportunity to fly on a private jet, a corporate jet. When you fly in a corporate jet they greet you by name they look to see who’s there when everyone is there you leave. Commercial airline experience is somewhat different.

Your parents may have told you that you were a precious snowflake that no one else in the world was like you. You may have gathered from that that the universe owed you something. The next five or six hours will present you a good opportunity to forget that. Your job for the next five or six hours is to not make the travel experience of those around you worse. I’m not even going to ask you to make the travel experience better for those around you although that is a laudable goal.

You won’t have that many experiences where so much humanity and so much diversity is packed so closely so this is a good opportunity to practice all those things they taught you in kindergarten. Be polite, say please and thank you, and share.

I know some of the rules on flights don’t make any sense. If cell phones could bring down airplanes then terrorists would have done so by now. But I also know that you are not so important we are going to change the rules just for you.

2. Share

You had to share your blocks and kindergarten and that may have been difficult for you. For the next five or six hours, I’m going to ask you to share the armrest the bathroom and a tiny chunk of space. You will find this tiny piece of your universe is not well separated from that of your fellow travelers. Sounds will traverse the barrier between your space and those around you. Smells will also waft from one space to another.

Earlier this year a woman was kicked off the plane because she thought that sitting on an airplane, a closed heavily populated metal tube with recirculated air) was a good time to do her nails. She may not have grasped the concept of this permeable barrier between her space and the space of those around her.How Not to get Kicked Off an Airplane Flight

3. Instructions

Can we agree that if the airlines could legally remove the flight attendants from flights and thus save the cost of their salary that they would? Most airlines these days are not focused on her primary goal as the service of their passengers. I don’t mean to say that the flight attendants are providing bad service but simply the airlines are having a hard time staying in business. They’ve been doing a fair amount of cost-cutting you may have noticed. The reason the flight attendants are still on flights is they are required to be there in case something goes wrong.

In the scene that Mike witnessed, the one message the flight attendants kept saying is “I need to know that you can follow my instructions”. If you can’t follow the flight attendant’s instructions they can’t have you on the flight. The one passenger who isn’t following instructions in the case of an emergency can put other passengers at risk.

The flight attendants are in the unenviable position of enforcing rules they may not even personally believe in. I have to think more than one flight attendant would be fine if you were playing “Words with Friends” during the takeoff or landing. But the FAA has determined you’re not allowed to.

The FAA decided that if you sit in an emergency row seat you have to be able to speak English. You have to be willing to help. You have to be capable of helping in an emergency. And apparently you can’t have something that might block the emergency row like a cat carrier. The flight attendant did not make those rules but they do have to enforce them.

The flight attendant will probably not ask you to do something illegal, immoral or terribly embarrassing during the entire flight. The only request they will make are things are things that will enforce the rules that someone at above their pay grade made or that will help you and your fellow passengers get to your destination safer, quicker or more comfortably.

4. About Drugs and Alcohol

You might be surprised but a lot of the stories that make the news of someone behaving badly on flights start with “a passenger apparently under the influence of”…

To be clear, I understand that some people are afraid to fly and take their courage in a liquid form. But I assure you that when you get so drunk that you throw up, lose control of other bodily functions or simply lose control of your mouth, you are significantly increasing the chances that your travel experience may include destinations that are not on your itinerary.

Set aside for a moment your position on the legalization of certain drugs like Marijuana. Can we agree that since these drugs are still currently illegal that bringing them someplace where you will definitely be searched, the only issue is to what degree might inform us why some call this drug “dope”. If you are tempted to take drugs with you internationally then I would require that you first rent the movie Midnight Express and second require you to read the Misuse of Drugs Act from Singapore. Words like imprisonment, caning, and capital punishment can be a buzz kill.

5. A Little Help Please

If you have a tendency to respond in anger to a simple request like “we will have to reseat you” or “can you turn off your device”, then I will encourage you to travel with someone more calm and somewhat more engaged in the process than the husband in our story. Stay open to the possibility that the people around you may be providing guidance on how to deal with the situation that has you frustrated in a more constructive fashion. Because if you think being reseated is maddening I have to wonder how you will feel about missing your flight and trying to find one… on a different airline… at the last minute… on full planes… paying full fare. Good luck with that.

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Chris Christensen

by Chris Christensen

Chris Christensen is the creator of the Amateur Traveler blog and podcast. He has been a travel creator since 2005 and has won awards including being named the "Best Independent Travel Journalist" by Travel+Leisure Magazine.

2 Responses to “How Not to get Kicked Off an Airplane Flight”

Liea Young


Touche’ and thanks for writing that! I’m sure that flight attendants all around the world appreciate what was said here.



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