American Airlines is investigating an incident in which a male flight attendant reportedly upset a female passenger to the point of tears, then later was recorded getting into a heated confrontation with a male passenger who tried to come to the woman’s defense.
“We have seen the video and have already started an investigation to obtain the facts,” American Airlines spokeswoman Leslie Scott said in an email to The Washington Post on Saturday. “What we see on this video does not reflect our values or how we care for our customers.”
The video in question was recorded by another passenger, Surain Adyanthaya, who uploaded the video to Facebook late Friday afternoon. The airline confirmed there was an incident Friday on Flight 591, from San Francisco International Airport to Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport.
“OMG! AA Flight attendant violently took a stroller from a lady with her baby on my flight, hitting her and just missing the baby,” Adyanthaya wrote on Facebook. “Then he tried to fight a passenger who stood up for her.”
OMG! AA Flight attendant violently took a stroller from a lady with her baby on my flight, hitting her and just missing the baby. Then he tried to fight a passenger who stood up for her. AA591 from SFO to DFW.
The video does not depict the stroller incident that Adyanthaya described, but it does show a female passenger standing at the front of the plane, sobbing uncontrollably as she holds a baby in a pink outfit. Beside her, a pilot stands mostly silent.
“You can’t use violence with baby,” the female passenger says, through tears, toward the plane door where some passengers can still be seen boarding. “Just give me back my stroller, please.”
At first, the male flight attendant in question does not appear in the frame. In the meantime, a male passenger seated near the front of the plane can be heard getting flustered.
“No, I’m not going to sit here and watch this stuff,” the male passenger says. He then gets out of his seat and demands to know the male flight attendant’s name.
As this takes place, other passengers can be heard discussing in low voices what they just witnessed.
Moments later, the male flight attendant returns to the plane.
“Hey, bud,” the male passenger who had gotten out of his seat earlier calls out, while pointing at the male flight attendant. “You do that to me, and I’ll knock you flat.”
“Hey, you stay out of this!” the flight attendant yells back, pointing his finger back at the male passenger.
The flight attendant takes a step forward and the male passenger leaps into the aisle. The passenger with the baby can be seen ducking out of the way, shielding her baby’s head. As the men’s argument escalates, it appears that the confrontation could become physical.
“Hit me,” the flight attendant urges, motioning with his hands. “Come on, hit me!”
“Tony, sit down,” a woman can be heard calling out to the male passenger.
“You don’t know what the story is!” the flight attendant says to the passenger.
“I don’t care what the story is,” the male passenger replies. “You almost hurt a baby.”
Another passenger on the flight, Olivia Morgan, told Tribune Media that she was waiting to board the plane with her child when she witnessed the flight attendant take a baby stroller away from the woman in a “violent” manner, nearly hitting the baby.
“The flight attendant wrestled the stroller away from the woman, who was sobbing, holding one baby, with the second baby in a car seat on the ground next to her,” Morgan told the news group. “He stormed by me with the stroller and I said something like, ‘What are you doing? You almost hit that baby!’ And he yelled at me to ‘stay out of it!’ just like he does in the video.”
American Airlines said the male flight attendant in the video would not be flying while the investigation takes place.
“The actions of our team member captured here do not appear to reflect patience or empathy, two values necessary for customer care,” Scott, the airline spokeswoman, said in a statement. “In short, we are disappointed by these actions. The American team member has been removed from duty while we immediately investigate this incident.”
Scott said the female passenger and her children ended up choosing to take another flight and were upgraded to first class for the remainder of their international trip.
“We are deeply sorry for the pain we have caused this passenger and her family and to any other customers affected by the incident,” the airline said in a statement. “We are making sure all of her family’s needs are being met while she is in our care.”
The Association of Professional Flight Attendants, which represents American Airlines flight attendants, released a statement Saturday cautioning the airline and the public not to rush to judgment before they could ascertain “all of the facts related to a passenger who became distraught while boarding a plane.”
Bob Ross, the association’s president, also noted in the statement that “it appears another passenger may have threatened a flight attendant with violence, which is a violation of federal law and no small matter. Air rage has become a serious issue on our flights.”
United chief executive Oscar Munoz, who in March received the 2017 Communicator of the Year award from PRWeek magazine, was blasted for his subsequent tone-deaf statement, in which he apologized “for having to re-accommodate these customers.” Though Munoz would eventually issue a deeper apology two days later, by then the damage to the airline’s brand was palpable. United stock prices had fallen and the incident had made the airline the butt of numerous memes online.
The incident prompted United to change its policies regarding bumped passengers, requiring airline crews to check in at least an hour before a flight’s departure. Two other major national airlines also announced changes: Delta Air Lines said it would offer passengers up to $9,950 to give up their seats on overbooked flights, The Post’s Luz Lazo reported. American Airlines stated it had updated its passenger conditions of carriage to specify they would “not involuntarily remove a revenue passenger, who has already boarded.”