Man Violates Federal Law by Asking for Orange Juice on American Airlines Flight?

I often lament the lackluster service of UA Flight Attendants, but apparently the grass may not be greener on the other side:

Something went very wrong on American Airlines flight 614 from Sacramento to Dallas this Sunday, December 6th. An American Airlines stewardess having an extremely bad day flipped the frak out on a first class passenger for asking for a glass of OJ and gave him a written warning from the captain for, "threatening, intimidating, or interfering with a crewmember."

The first thought that crossed my mind was that this passenger must have done something to provoke the incident. A bystander described the incident:

David Koss wrote us, "About 45 minutes into the flight I was awakened by a flight attendant named Helen, screaming at the man sitting in front of my wife. It was so loud, I could hear it over my headphones and the music playing. She was going off about how she didn't care if he was Platinum or Executive Platinum. I found this to be very odd. When she was done screaming, she came over to where my wife was sitting to ask what she wanted to eat. Then she said, "Sorry about that, he was just bitching." First of all, such language shouldn't be used by a flight attendant. Second of all, what business is it of hers to discuss the situation with other passengers?

Hmm. FA's swear all the time when I engage them in a conversation, but I have never had a FA complain about another passenger out of the blue.

More background:

She violently slid my friend's breakfast onto his tray, nearly spilling everything and then headed to the man in front of my wife. He had trouble getting his tray out, and she stood there rolling her eyes at him. When he finally got it out, she dropped the breakfast hard onto the tray. He asked if he could have some orange juice. This is when it hit the fan. "This must be your first time in first class," she said. He asked what she meant by that. He told her he was actually on the flight that made him Executive Platinum for the 10th year in a row. She said, "You obviously don't know how this works." He told her in a calm voice that she was being very condescending. That's when she blew up on him and woke me up. He started looking the other way and asked her to stop yelling at him. The entire first class section was watching her go nuts.

Okay. That confirms it. She's nuts. You can read about the rest of what happened here.

This story reminds me of an incident that happened on my flight from Tampa to Chicago a couple weeks ago. After years of exclusive TED (all Economy) service to Tampa, United has restored mainline flights to Denver, Chicago, and Washington Dulles. While First Class has returned, United has not yet signed a catering contract in Tampa so meals are flown in on dry ice from hubs for flights ex-TPA. Consequently, First Class meals ex-TPA and sometimes to TPA are served in black plastic trays rather than on china. This also means that special meals are not available (due to logistical constraints I assume).

Anyway, the couple seated behind me on my flight had ordered Kosher meals which were not loaded. The wife became livid when she was informed of this and launched a loud verbal tirade against the poor purser. The purser calmly stood and listened, repeatedly apologizing and attempting to explain why the special meal was not loaded. In addition to bringing out fruit plates (isn't fruit Kosher?), she brought the couple all four snackboxes from Economy so that they could pick out what they wanted from each box.

I was amazed at how well the purser handled the situation and complimented her after the meal service. She thanked me and said sometimes you just have to stay calm and listen.

In the American Airlines case above, the passenger was not boisterous or belligerent, he simply asked for a glass of orange juice and look at the response he got. I can only imagine what would have happened if the couple on my UA flight had been on the AA flight. Helen could learn a few things from my TPA-ORD purser.

Authorities and AA personnel were waiting at the gate when the AA flight landed in DFW to interview First Class passengers about what had transpired. All I can say is that I hope the FA won't have a chance to terrorize other passengers anytime soon.


FT Lurker December 11, 2009 at 02:01 pm

The fruit may be kosher, but the plate probably isn't.

Either way, there was no reason for the passenger to make a scene.

Josh December 11, 2009 at 06:14 pm

It's not that just that the plate is or isn't kosher.

It's that kosher food needs to be prepared under strict supervision. If you're very strict about keeping kosher, it's not just that the ingredients are kosher. It's that the meal was prepared according to all the rules (kosher utensils, kosher plates, etc.). And there's more: You need proper proof that it was prepared according to the rules, and that's where the certification fits in.

If you look closely at kosher meals on an airplane, they are in sealed containers with a certification note on the outside. The certification (called a hechsher) lists what certification agency (I know... this sounds ridiculous) certified the food, and usually features a signature from the mashgiach (the certifier).

So if the couple in question was very strictly Orthodox, there's no way they would have eaten the fruit. Yes, fruit is usually kosher. But unless it has kosher certification, the woman had no idea (religiously speaking) where it came from or what it came in contact with, and Jewish law forbids her to eat it. She may have found something acceptable in a snack box. That's because the food within the snack box is often individually packaged, and many companies that sell such foods have kosher certification (looks like a little U in a circle) on the package.

So she was upset because she'd arranged to have food on the plane, it wasn't there, and here she was 35,000 ft in the air with nothing to eat.

Of course, this is absolutely no excuse for her to be rude to the FA. (And honestly, if she was that hungry, she should have brought some of her own food as a back-up plan.)

@Josh: Thanks for the clarification/explanation!

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