In March 2017, gate staff of United Airlines told two teenage girls that they couldn’t board their flight. The reason? The girls were wearing leggings.
The news spread like wildfire. Everyone on Twitter was up in arms. United’s “dress code” was called sexist, arbitrary, and deranged. But we shouldn’t have spent all of our vitriol in one place.
The next month, this happened. David Dao, the Kentucky doctor who became the battered face of public rage against airlines, eventually settled “amicably” with United Airlines. The airline says it is crafting new “customer-first” policies to ensure that no one else has to lose teeth (literally) just for refusing to give up a seat that’s long since bought and paid for.
Still, the fact is that we all watched Dao get a bloody nose because he didn’t want to give up his flight. The airline is the one that overbooked the flight; why should a seated passenger be forced off?
It turns out that we should have seen this coming. Airlines have been throwing passengers off of airplanes willy-nilly since the Wright brothers at Kitty Hawk. Well, maybe not quite, but you get the point.
Here are a few of the unwritten travel rules apparently followed by commercial airlines. Get your Twitter fingers ready.
1. No Cussing
In 2011, a Brooklyn native named Robert Sayegh boarded an Atlantic Southeast Airlines flight in Detroit. There seemed to be some delay; the flight crew wasn’t closing the overhead compartments as quickly as Sayegh had expected. He expressed his confusion to the person sitting next to him.
“What’s taking so f***ing long to close the overhead compartments?” he reportedly said.
News of this comment reached the pilot, who had the police escort Sayegh off the plane. He was “disruptive,” the pilot claimed. The lesson: You’d better keep your language G-rated when you fly commercial.
2. No Crying
It seems that 2011 was a good year for getting kicked off of airplanes. That same year, Ricci Wheatley and her sister, Robin Opperman, boarded a Southwest Airlines flight from Oakland to Dallas. The trip was already laced with tragedy; the sisters were on their way to visit their father, who was recovering from a heart attack.
Already worried about her dad, Wheatley’s flight anxiety kicked in heavily. She started to cry.
“She was very quiet, softly crying,” Opperman told ABC 7 News. “It was not a crying that anybody would hear.”
As the flight attendant passed by, the distraught woman asked her for a glass of wine. The attendant told Wheatley, “I think you’ve had enough.” Of course, Wheatley hadn’t had so much as a drop of wine since she boarded the flight.
Next thing they knew, the sisters were being escorted from the plane. Southwest put them up in a hotel, bought them dinner, and got them on a flight the following day. Still, you have to wonder: Are tears really that much of a threat?
3. That Goes for Babies, Too
You just read a story about a woman who was thrown off a flight for weeping. Apparently, that’s an all-ages policy.
Sort-of-famous Canadian singer Sarah Blackwood boarded a United Airlines flight from San Francisco to Vancouver in 2015. She had her 23-month-old son with her. Oh, she was also seven months pregnant. You can imagine what a joy travel is, even at its smoothest, for a pregnant mom with a toddler.
As the airplane taxied down the runway, Blackwood’s son began to cry. A pair of flight attendants were soon at her side.
“They said, ‘If you can’t control your child, we’re going to have to turn the plane around and ask you to leave,” Blackwood told TODAY.com. “I was welling up with tears because it’s already really frustrating having to deal with that. You’re already embarrassed because you know everyone around you is thinking that this kid is never going to stop and he’s super loud.”
Soon, the child had cried himself out. He fell asleep. By that time, however, the plane had already turned around. United staff boarded the plane and escorted Blackwood and her sleeping boy from the plane.
A United spokesperson later told TODAY.com that Blackwood was removed because her son wasn’t properly secured for lift-off. Blackwood says that’s bunk. Either way, though, this is a heck of a way to treat a pregnant mom who’s just trying to get from one place to another.
4. In Fact, No Babies At All. How ‘Bout That?
Crying isn’t the only thing that can get babies thrown off of airplanes. In 2007, a woman named Kate Penland was headed home on a Continental ExpressJet flight from Houston to Atlanta. She was traveling with her son, Garren, who was only 19 months old.
Garren had just started talking. He was still on the “hello” and “bye-bye” phase of language development. Penland pointed out the window to another plane that was taking off.
“Bye-bye plane,” Garren said. “Bye-bye plane.”
Garren repeated the phrase as many times as he possibly could. You know, because he was a baby. A flight attendant seemed to have heard something sinister in the child’s message.
The flight attendant “leaned over the gentleman who was sitting next to me, and she said, ‘Okay, it’s not funny anymore,'” Penland later told ABC News. “‘You need to shut your baby up.'”
An argument ensued, in which the flight attendant recommended that Penland drug her child with Baby Benadryl. The scene culminated in Penland and Garren getting kicked off the flight.
The whole thing is strangely reminiscent of a Louis CK bit, in which the comedian observes that you can force a flight to land just by repeating the word “down” over and over. Once again, reality proves to be more absurd than satire.
5. No Cake
In a new front on commercial air travel’s attempt to rid the world of all good things, JetBlue flight attendants recently threw a family off a flight because they brought a birthday cake on board.
Cameron and Minta Burke and their two children, of New Jersey, boarded a May 2017 flight to Las Vegas. The plan was to celebrate Minta’s 40th birthday. She wore a tiara. They carried a buttercream cake, ready to party when they landed.
That moment never came.
Cameron placed the boxed cake into an overhead bin, but a flight attendant asked him to move it. He tried putting it into a different overhead bin, but the attendant asked him to stow it under the seat in front of him. Cameron complied. After that, things got…complicated.
JetBlue’s official line, reprinted in the Washington Post, is that “the customers became agitated, cursed and yelled at the crew, and made false accusations about a crewmember’s fitness to fly.”
Video of the event shows the family seated and compliant as Port Authority officers board the plane and interview the Burkes. In a very sad moment, the young son apologizes tearfully to the police.
“No, buddy, you’re okay, all right?” the officer tells the crying boy. “Don’t cry. It’s all right.”
It wasn’t all right, though. The Burkes