From David Dao to Ann Coulter: A look at recent airline controversies

A family of five said they were unfairly kicked off a JetBlue flight earlier this month without a reason.

Conservative commentator Ann Coulter publicly shamed Delta on Twitter last week after she said she was forced to give up a seat with extra room that she paid for.

United Airlines reached an “amicable” settlement in April with a doctor who went viral after he was forcibly removed from a flight, sustaining significant facial injuries.

It’s a combination of the rising prominence of social media and a near-monopoly of the airline industry that is contributing to the growing news of airline customers being unduly inconvenienced as they travel, attorney Arthur Alan Wolk, who specializes in aviation law, told Fox News.

These incidents are “happening more because airlines feel that they’re empowered to abuse their passengers more and feel that there are no consequences,” Wolk said.

“The reality is, if you need to go from Philadelphia to San Diego, and there’s only one airline that flies you there, the fact that they may have mistreated a passenger, including yourself, is not going to prevent you from taking that flight,” he added. “Once you have a monopoly, you have no incentive to give good customer service, treat people fairly and perform in a manner that you would be expected to perform if there was competition.”

UNITED AIRLINES CONTROVERSIES

Wolk says that chances of the airline industry improving for customers is bleak, even “nill.”

“The only way to really improve it…is to have competition,” Wolk said. “The only other thing that works, I’m loathe to say, is for the regulatory environment to tighten up the service regulations that apply to the airlines.”

Read on for a look at some recent airline controversies.

‘Dachshund-legged woman’

In a series of tweets, Coulter slammed Delta for giving away her seat to another woman on a flight from New York to West Palm Beach on July 15.

Coulter later told Fox News that as she was boarding, a “ticket agent snatched the ticket out of” her hand and informed her that her seat had changed due to an “emergency.”

She said that she sat in the original seat anyway until she was told to move by a stewardess who was not able to give an explanation for the seat change.

“[The other passenger] was not an elderly person, was not a sickly person, a very tall person,” Coulter said.

Wolk said Coulter’s situation is indicative of another problem with airlines – the seat pitch.

AIRLINE DIDN’T ALLOW BLIND MAN, GRANDDAUGHTER ON PLANE

As airlines have decreased the seat pitch – the “area between the back of the seat in front of you and where your back rests in your seat,” Wolk explained –  there has been an increase in safety concerns.

In an emergency situation, should the person in the aisle seat be injured and unable to move, other passengers could be stuck in their rows or have to climb over other seats or people, he said.

Party of five

A family of five said they were unfairly kicked off of a JetBlue flight on July 2 after a confrontation with an airline employee.

Tamir and Mandy Raanan said they were traveling from Fort Lauderdale to New York with their three young daughters – one of whom had kicked the back of another passenger’s seat.

ARE AIRLINE EMPLOYEES BECOMING UNHINGED?

Mandy said she apologized to the other passenger, but the family was still asked to leave the plane.

But JetBlue said in a statement that the incident was not as innocent as described.

“After a verbal altercation that included physical threats and profanities against a nearby customer, the aircraft door was reopened and our airports team politely asked the customers to step off to discuss the situation,” JetBlue said.

The airline thanked its employees for their “professional handling” of the situation and said it would “investigate whether the customers’ behavior warrants restrictions on JetBlue travel” in the future.

Quite the ‘erreur’

Lucie Bahetoukilae, who only speaks French, handed her ticket to an airline employee and boarded a plane in Newark, N.J., thinking the next stop would be Paris. When she got to her seat and found another woman in it, a flight attendant sat her in an empty seat.

Nearly 3,000 miles later, Bahetoukilae touched down in San Francisco.

In what United Airlines deemed a “horrible failure” in May, Bahetoukilae boarded the wrong plane after her flight’s gate switched at the last minute. She said the announcement wasn’t made in French, and she didn’t receive an email notifying her of the gate change.

Once in San Francisco, Bahetoukilae had to wait 11 hours before United was able to get her on the correct flight to France.

MAN WITH PROSTHETIC LEG CLAIMS AIRLINE FORCED HIM TO MOVE

Diane Miantsoko, the woman’s niece, told WABC-TV that she was worried about United’s security protocol.

“With everything going on in this country people have to be more careful,” Miantsoko said. “They didn’t pay attention. My aunt could have been anyone. She could have been a terrorist and killed people on that flight and they didn’t know they didn’t catch it.”

United apologized for the mistake in a statement and said it is “working with our team in Newark to prevent this from happening again.”

Whose seat is it, anyway?

Delta apologized after a California couple and their two children were booted from the overbooked plane when the parents refused to give up an extra seat they had purchased.

Brian Schear said he, his wife and two children boarded a flight from Maui to Los Angeles on April 23 and were asked to give up an additional seat they had purchased for their older son who had ended up taking a different flight. Since their older son wasn’t present, Schear said the family planned to use his seat for one of the younger children.

AIRLINE COMPLAINTS DOWN LAST YEAR DESPITE MORE BUMPING INCIDENTS

But the flight was overbooked, and Schear was asked to give up the seat. When the family refused, they were made to leave the plane. The family booked new tickets home on another airline. 

“We are sorry for the unfortunate experience our customers had with Delta, and we’ve reached out to them to refund their travel and provide additional compensation,” the airline said at the time.

‘I’d rather go to jail’

Dr. David Dao was seated on a United fight in Chicago bound for Louisville on April 9 when he was asked to give up his seat on an overbooked flight to make room for crew members.

Dao refused, explaining that he is a doctor who needed to be at work the next morning at 8 a.m.

“I’m not going,” Dao repeatedly said. “I’d rather go to jail.”

Disturbing cell phone footage showing Dao being dragged off the plane, seemingly unconscious, by security officials went viral. During the altercation, Dao suffered a concussion, lost two of his teeth and broke his nose, his attorney said.

Dao and United “reached an amicable settlement” later in April.

“We look forward to implementing the improvements we have announced, which will put our customers at the center of everything we do,” United said in a statement at the time of the settlement. 

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