Peace on Earth, Not Necessarily Aboard Aircraft

Victoria Osteen, seen here with her husband, pastor Joel Osteen, was asked to leave a plane last week after an altercation with flight attendants.
Victoria Osteen, seen here with her husband, pastor Joel Osteen, was asked to leave a plane last week after an altercation with flight attendants. (By Pat Sullivan -- Associated Press)

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By Keith L. Alexander
Tuesday, December 27, 2005

It's holiday time and that means -- theoretically at least -- peace on Earth and good will toward men (and women).

But two recent airline incidents raise the question: Does good will apply to the skies?

One episode involved the wife of a world-renowned televangelist who was removed from her Continental Airlines flight after what witnesses said was an altercation with a flight attendant.

The other involved a 90-year-old passenger who was removed from his assigned seat on Delta Air Lines to accommodate a Saint Bernard.

The incidents occurred within weeks of each other at a time when airlines were at their busiest and airline employees -- suffering from understaffing because of recent layoffs -- were overworked.

Last week, Victoria Osteen, wife of the televangelist Joel Osteen, pastor of the Houston-based Lakewood Church, was removed from Continental flight 1602 to Vail, Colo., after she "failed to comply" with a flight attendant's request, according to a report filed by the airline to the FBI.

The Osteens, like many of the passengers on the flight, were headed to Vail for a family ski vacation. Donald Iloff, spokesman for the couple, called the episode a "90-second misunderstanding."

The misunderstanding occurred when the Osteens boarded the first-class cabin and Victoria Osteen noticed a liquid spill on her seat. She asked one flight attendant to clean it, but the attendant was unable to do so at the time because passengers were boarding. Osteen then asked another flight attendant. That attendant was also busy and instead gave Osteen napkins to clean it herself.

What happened next differs depending on who's telling the tale. According to two written complaints filed by the attendants to union officials, Osteen became angry and barged toward the cockpit saying that she "wanted to speak to someone in charge." One attendant tried to stop her and she pushed the attendant aside, according to the reports. A second attendant stepped forward and Osteen grabbed that attendant by the wrist and engaged in an argument outside of the cockpit.

Touching a flight attendant is a federal offense, according to the Federal Aviation Administration. Iloff said that he didn't know if Osteen had touched the attendant.

Osteen was removed from the aircraft and her husband and two children accompanied her. For nearly two hours, the flight waited at the gate as the Osteens' bags were removed. The family later took a chartered Continental flight to Vail, according to a source within the flight attendants union.

Continental spokeswoman Julie King refused to elaborate, saying only: "The matter has been resolved."

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© 2005 The Washington Post Company

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