Every week, it seems like there’s a new drama in the airline industry, thanks to some armchair warriors with a cell phone. There was the United Airlines leggings issue and then the man “drug” off the United Airlines airplane (spoiler alert: not United’s fault), American had their stroller incident (spoiler alert #2: not American’s fault), Delta had their “Delta family removed from flight” incident today (spoiler alert #3: not Delta’s fault). The truth is, every single one of these stories (and the rest that I didn’t mention) all had SO much more to the backstory that isn’t included in the clickbait article headlines. They also all boil down to one thing: passengers not reading the fine print that includes federal regulations about their behavior on an airplane. They can all be avoided by you knowing your rights on an airplane.
When you buy an airplane ticket, you’re agreeing to abide by the rules included with that ticket. Most people just click “agree” and move on with their lives, rather than read through them (they ARE long and tedious– I do the same thing). The problem is, they then think that those rules don’t apply to them. The issues on aircraft the last few months could all be avoided entirely if they’d just read the rules and obeyed crew member instructions.
Rules You Need to Read Before Flying on Delta, United, or Any Other Airline (Apparently):
When you’re flying non-rev (or: the United Airlines leggings incident)
When you’re flying non-rev, you’re getting a free (or close to free) ticket to wherever you’d like. You’re also agreeing to fly wearing what the airline has laid out as acceptable. In this case, it was business casual and no Spandex or other form-fitting clothing (there is no age restriction on this requirement). That’s not sexist, as it applies to both men and women, and they knew ahead of time, as every airline sends out the dress code with these tickets in some form. The biggest irony of this incident was that the people involved weren’t even the ones tweeting about it. They accepted that they had dressed inappropriately and got on the next flight, after changing the clothes. Don’t like the dress code? Don’t fly for free.
“Non-transferable” (or: the Delta family removed from flight incident)
When you buy a ticket, your ticket is YOUR ticket. It has your name on it, and no one else’s, which means they are not transferable– it’s not a baseball ticket. The requirement to have the right person in the right seat is courtesy of the FAA who likes to know who is missing from the plane should something happen, as well as be able to vet anyone they need to before they fly. When you don’t check into that flight by boarding time, the airline is within their right to assume you aren’t coming and can resell the ticket to someone else. That doesn’t mean you get to put your 18 month old lap child in the seat that you purchased for your 18 year old offspring that took another flight.
Following Crew Member Instructions (or: almost all of the incidents)
When you get on an airplane, you’re agreeing to follow all crew member instructions (if that sounds familiar, it’s because it’s in the FAA-regulated speech that flight attendants have to make before takeoff). If you don’t, that’s immediate grounds for removal from the airplane. In fact, air crew is REQUIRED to call TSA when a passenger is refusing to follow air crew’s instructions so it’s out of their hands once you refuse to listen to their instructions. This is for YOUR safety. If someone doesn’t follow crew member instructions, they’re putting your life and the lives of everyone in the airplane in danger. Yes, that sounds excessive when you’re talking about a father refusing to have his child sit in his lap, but we don’t like racial profiling in this country (and for good reason) which means the rules have to be applied to everyone, whether they “look” like a terrorist or not.
Knowing Your Rights on an Airplane (or: how not to end up an internet sensation)
There are something like 8.7 MILLION commercial flights a year to every corner of the planet. I know it seems like there’s a ton of issues with the airlines, but the truth is, even if there’s one reported in the media every week (there’s not), 52 a year is a drop in the bucket when you put it beside the number of flights– hardly an epidemic. Realistically, I’d venture to say 51 of those 52 are probably passenger-caused drama that didn’t need to happen (see above). The airlines aren’t saints and they certainly want to make a profit, but not at the expense of alienating their passengers. They’re in a customer service industry and they know it so they’re going to do everything they can to make sure you’re taken care of.
Here’s the deal, y’all. Don’t be a jerk. Be nice to the air crew and they’ll be nice to you. Accept that MAYBE they know a little something about the rules and how the airline will run the most smoothly (read: get you from Point A to Point B the fastest, and most importantly, the safest, which is all any of us wants). Asking questions is totally fine; telling them no is not (which is why “Delta family removed from flight” even happened). If what they’re doing is truly against the rules, deal with it after you leave the aircraft, not on the plane where you’re going to get arrested for it. In the end, know your rights on an airplane and– more importantly– know what’s NOT your right (hint: flying on an airplane) so that you can advocate for yourself and your family in the best possible way for the best possible outcome.
PS: If you’re headed to go fly somewhere, here are some tips for flying with your kids to make it as painless as possible!