Tiana Fough, 27, was fresh off a vacation in Tucson with her girlfriends when she landed in Phoenix for a connecting flight back to Portland, Ore., earlier this week.
The mother of two toddlers, Fough occasionally works odd jobs here and there, but she mainly stays home to care for her kids. When she buys plane tickets, she often just opts for the cheapest ones. This time, they happened to be with American Airlines.
“I think this is my first time I’ve ever flown American,” Fough told The Washington Post. And then she chuckled — she certainly hadn’t been granted any “beginner’s luck.”
To hear the traveler tell it, the boarding of US Airways/American Airlines Flight 408 began in a manner no different from any other flight. There were lines, some crowding, some disgruntled passengers.
As she waited in the aisle to get to her seat, Fough chatted casually with another passenger in front of her. Then a flight attendant started yelling.
“Stay right there,” he shouted, in Fough’s account. “I asked you three times.”
Bewildered, Fough asked, “What’s going on?”
“You can get off this flight,” the attendant said. “I’ll kick you off of this plane right now.”
Fough recounted that while the attendant was wearing a button-up shirt with the trademark winged pin of flight crews, he had on neither a name tag nor the uniform that the other attendants were wearing.
After refusing to give Fough his name, she said, he dismissed her with a curt, “Go.”
At her seat, a bewildered Fough started sobbing. Other passengers were comforting her when the flight attendant appeared again. He started opening the overhead compartments around her seat. “Where’s your bag?” he said. “You’re getting off this plane. I’m going to kick you off this plane.”
What happened next was captured in a furtive video by Bill Byrne, who was seated directly behind Fough. A female attendant came to support her colleague. “Tiana? Fough? Is that your last name?” she asked. “I need to have you come off the aircraft.”
“Why are you guys so mean to me?” Fough is shown crying. “I didn’t do anything.”
After she reluctantly stood up to leave, the captive crowd’s indignation could be heard in the background of the video. “Are you serious?” one woman said. “That’s the last time I fly American,” the man sitting beside Fough shook his head. “Shame on American!”
Almost in unison, the passengers started to boo at the flight crew.
“I’ve seen people who deserve that,” Byrne told WPXI-Pittsburgh. “But never have I ever seen someone actually get thrown off a plane.” He said the video quality is poor because he kept his phone close to his chest, for fear of being discovered by the flight attendant who seemed “ready to throw more people off.”
Now back home in Tillamook, Ore., after boarding another flight four hours later, Fough said she still doesn’t understand why she was forced off the plane. The flight attendant told her that he had asked her several times to make space in the aisle for another passenger, but Fough said there were four people between them, and she hadn’t heard him until he started yelling.
Several of the other passengers on Flight 408 have since reached out to express their support, including one who said many of them approached the pilot after landing to complain. This passenger told Fough that the pilot said she had called another flight attendant — one Fough claims she never came into contact with — a derogatory term.
“Now they’re making up all this stuff,” Fough said. She believes she was arbitrarily chosen to get off the flight to make room for a man who took her seat almost immediately after she was asked to leave.
“It’s a little coincidental that I’m being attacked verbally for no reason, and then all of a sudden another guy is getting my seat,” she said.
American Airlines wrote in an e-mail statement to The Washington Post early Thursday that the incident has been taken care of.
“We are in contact with the passenger and have apologized,” the statement reads. “We have addressed the issue with our team members to ensure we provide a consistent, quality travel experience for our customers in the future.”
Fough isn’t satisfied with the concession. After Byrne’s video appeared on the news, she said, a customer service representative contacted her and offered her a $250 voucher. When Fough told the employee she would never use it, she was offered the money in cash.
“That’s how you’re going to solve this problem?” said Fough, who is seeking legal counsel. “What about my rights?”