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Thanks for nothing, Southwest

New Arrival

 

 

I have been traveling for business for over twenty five years and thought I had seen it all but what I saw this week on Southwest Airlines makes everything in that quarter century pale in comparison.

I’ve got a pretty thick skin and a very high tolerance for things I see in the traveling public and the travel providers I deal with on a weekly basis so it takes a lot to raise my eyebrows. What happened seems almost surreal and it’s almost like I am still in that dream.

I had a “can’t miss” project team meeting at my client site in Fort Myers, Florida scheduled for 8:00 am Monday morning, August 14, 2017. Living outside of Denver, I booked my trip through Southwest Airlines with the following itinerary:

 

Sunday, August 13, 2017

DEN-BWI WN5092

Depart DENVER, CO (DEN) 02:30 PM

Arrive in BALTIMORE/WASHINGTON, MD (BWI) 07:55 PM

 

BWI-RSW WN5285

Change planes to Southwest Airlines in BALTIMORE/WASHINGTON, MD (BWI) at 08:40 PM

Arrive in FT. MYERS, FL (RSW) at 11:10 PM

 

Having “A-List” status on Southwest and knowing there was a tight connection in BWI for me to get from my arrival gate B15 to my connecting gate at C14, I opted to select a seat in the front of the aircraft so I could deplane early. As many who ride in the Southwest 737’s know, the front row of seats have no place to stow your carryon bags so they must go in the overhead compartments. When I boarded, I found that the pre-boarders sitting in three of the front row seats had taken most of the available space. With a little bit of rearranging, I was able to squeeze my laptop bag in to the space above my seat, 1D.

 

After we had gotten to cruising altitude and the pilot turned off the fasten seat belt light, a man in one of the other bulkhead seats opened the overhead bin and took out my laptop bag and rearranged his bags and began punching and forcing my bag and swearing about how I put my "sh*t" on top of his. I asked him to go easy on my bag since I had my work laptop in there but he continued. My seat mates looked at me and questioned what was going on whereupon he said to me "keep talking sh*t, we'll see you in Baltimore".

 

In over two decades of business travel, or personal travel for that matter, I have never been threatened on an airplane so I was a little shaken by this. After composing myself, I jotted a note down on a napkin indicating that the passenger in 2C had threatened me when we got off the plane in BWI. I passed it to the flight attendant who seemed to be expecting it as she took the napkin very discretely and disappeared to the back of the aircraft.

 

A while later, she returned and gave me a reassuring pat on my arm. While she was in the galley area, I took the opportunity to retrieve my bag and discovered that a pair of sunglasses had been broken by the rough treatment. She let me know that when I needed to put my bag up she would do it for me. I appreciated her kindness and gave her one of my “Thank you for kicking tail” coupons that I carry as an acknowledgement of her going above and beyond.

The rest of the flight proceeded without incident as I kept to myself and tried to avoid any contact with the threatening passenger. The flight attendant place my laptop bag in the overhead compartment and no comments were made.

 

When we landed and rolled up to the jetway, I noticed from my bulkhead seat that it was taking an unusually long amount of time for the flight attendants to open the door. They kept looking out the window and it was then that I realized that security was probably there to greet our flight. When the door was finally opened, the flight attendant signaled me to hold back and allow the threatening man and his travel companions to exit first. As they got off the plane, they were met by a group of Baltimore PD officers and some Southwest people. Somebody must have told him that he was being detained for threatening another passenger because he looked at me and flew into a rage, swearing and calling the Southwest people names. His traveling companions became very agitated, as well.

 

He was escorted into the gate area and I was instructed to exit the plane and wait in the boarding area near where they scan the boarding passes. He and his travel companions continued to direct obscenities my way. A Southwest supervisor by the name of Jamie came up and asked my what happened and I told her about the incident on board. She asked about my connecting flight and was able to provide me with the gate number. A Baltimore police officer then came up and asked me to tell my side of the story, which I did. He asked for my ID and I provided it to him.

 

After a while, the police officer asked me if I wished to press charges and I declined saying I only wanted to get to my gate without fear of being jumped. The Southwest supervisor said the man and his party were terminating in Baltimore and asked if I would like an escort to my gate. I replied that as long as they were leaving the airport, I could make it to my gate without an escort, although a couple of Southwest people walked with me for a few gates down before we got separated in the crowd.

 

When I got to my gate for the Fort Myers leg of my trip, I found a power outlet and plugged in my laptop to do some last minute preparation for my meeting in the morning. Soon the gate agent began the boarding announcements so I powered my laptop down. I didn’t need to make a connection so I contemplated my desired seat selection, which was the exit row without the seat in front of it. Being in the A16 boarding position, I figured I had a good chance at that seat. When I was called to board, as I got on the aircraft, I looked back and saw that my preferred seat was available but sitting in the front row was the man who had threatened me on the last flight and his traveling companions! He must have pre boarded and I was shocked to see him. He promptly flipped me a ‘bird’ but I ignored him and made my way to my seat.

 

As I passed him he began to yell but I continued to the back where the safety of my exit row seat awaited. Once I sat down, I saw that he had engaged the flight attendant at the front of the plane and was very animated with her. I could hear that he was claiming I hit him with my laptop bag (which I did not). At this point, the flight attendant had stopped the boarding process and the pilot had come out and was listening to the man rant. The flight attendant came back to where I was seated and wagged her finger at me, saying she'd heard his story and sternly admonished me to not go in the forward part of the cabin. If I needed to get up and use the lavatory I was to stay in the aft portion of the plane, to which I agreed.

 

She returned to the front of the plane and resumed the boarding process but the man continued to be agitated and yell at her. A short time later some ramp people with florescent vests and radios came on board and ordered me to collect me things and come with them. By this time boarding had stopped again and the passengers were held up in the gate area. I had a decision to make; I could stand my ground and stay on the aircraft because I needed to make my 8:00 am meeting the next day or I could comply with their orders. The vision of the passenger being dragged off the United flight was still fresh in my mind so rather than risk getting manhandled by the waiting Baltimore police officers, I chose to exit the plane.

 

I was marched past the passengers waiting to board in a “perp walk” of sorts. The threatening man and his companions were also in the boarding area and I came within an arms length of that man, who on the previous flight threatened me when we got to Baltimore. I was marched over to the desk in the gate area where there were a group of Baltimore police officers.

 

Shocked, I asked the ramp guy what was going on and he said the pilot would not fly with me on board. One of the BPD officers asked me for my ID. At this point, the whole scenario began to seem like a bad dream. I asked the ramp guy if he had spoken with the supervisor at the previous gate where I had gotten off the inbound flight and he said “no” as he handed me a boarding pass for the next flight to Ft. Myers at around 10:00 the following morning.

I let him know that I needed to be in Ft. Myers for an 8:00 am meeting and could not spend the night in the Baltimore airport but he indicated that there was nothing he could do. After some pleading with him to call over to the other gate, he did and he spoke with Jamie. After he hung up with her, he apologized to me and told me to head over to the B concourse and talk to her to see what she could do for me.

 

It was after 9:00 pm and I had tried calling without success any other airline that I could to find a flight to Ft. Myers. I ran over to the B gates and asked one of the ticket people where I could find Jamie and they pointed her out. Exasperated, I asked her why she told me that the threatening passenger was terminating in BWI and all she could do was apologize and said that’s what the BPD told her.  At that moment, I heard a last call boarding announcement for the Ft. Lauderdale flight. I asked Jamie if I could get on that flight. She agreed and directed the nearest ticket agent to “get me whatever I asked for”, which was simply a boarding pass on that flight. They told me it was on the A concourse and Jamie said she would ask them to wait for me.

 

I ran to the A gate as fast as I could while calling to arrange a rental car in FLL so I could make the 2+ hour drive to Ft. Myers and have a fighting chance at making my 8:00 meeting. I was the last person to board the Fort Lauderdale flight and took a middle seat near the back of the plane. While sitting on the plane waiting to take off, I engaged someone from Southwest on Twitter and quickly explained my situation. Below is the exchange:

 

NelGood


You guys totally blew it wn5092 13 Aug in bwi

Aug 13Sent

 

Southwest Airlines

We're saddened to learn you're upset with us. Is there anything we can assist you with here? -Maddie ^MA

Aug 13

 

NelGood

 

contact Jamie at bwi

Aug 13Sent

Southwest Airlines

 

We're more than happy to address your concerns here. Please feel free to send over your confirmation number so we can follow up. -Maddie ^MA

Aug 13

NelGood

 

incident on 5092 and my connect to 5285 thrown off the plane

Aug 13Sent

NelGood

 

NEJI22 DISGRACEFUL!

Aug 13Sent

Southwest Airlines

 

Please send over your six character air confirmation number. -Maddie ^MA

Aug 13

NelGood

 

NEJI22

Aug 13Sent

Southwest Airlines

Thanks for sending over that information, Nelson. We certainly want to do all we can to assist you in this situation. Could you please tell me a bit more about your experience today and why we were unable to accommodate you on your connecting flight out of BWI. -Maddie ^MA

Aug 1

Southwest Airlines

 

Just to circle back with you, I have spoken with our Supervisors in BWI and have gotten a summary of what occurred. We're hear to be our Customers advocate, so when you get a chance, I would certainly like to hear your perspective. -Maddie ^MA

Aug 13

 

NelGood

 

I need a car & driver tonight to take me from fll to rsw

Aug 13Sent

 

Southwest Airlines

 

I'm sorry to say, but we're unable to honor that request. Currently, we have you re-booked on a flight to get you to RSW tomorrow. -Maddie ^MA

Aug 13

 

NelGood

 

I am landing in fll right now on a rebooked flight. I need to get to rsw tonight

Aug 13Sent

NelGood

 

Can a supervisor meet me at the gate?

 

NelGood

 

Bring an attorney

Aug 13Sent

Southwest Airlines

 

I understand, but we will only be able to get you on the rebooked flight tomorrow. ^SL

Aug 13

 

NelGood

 

I am in fll right now

Aug 13Sent

 

Southwest Airlines

 

Nelson, we will not be able to provide a car and driver to you. If you choose to not travel with us tomorrow and drive yourself, please let us know. -Sarah Jo ^SL

Aug 13

 

NelGood

 

What on Earth are you talking about?

 

NelGood

 

I already made the trip from Baltimore to Fort Lauderdale .

Aug 13Sent

 

 

Southwest Airlines

 

I apologize for the confusion. I see that you were reaccommodated to Fort Lauderdale instead of Fort Myers tonight. I'm going to look to see if there is anything we can offer as a gesture of goodwill for this experience and will circle back. Thanks in advance for your patience. -Sarah Jo ^SL

Aug 13

 

NelGood

 

why did you not fly me to Fort Myers?

 

NelGood

 

Why did I have to go to Fort Lauderdale?

Aug 13Sent

 

 

Southwest Airlines

 

You stated that you needed to be in Florida tonight, and we would not be able to reaccommodate you to Fort Myers until tomorrow. -Sarah Jo ^SL

Aug 14

NelGood

 

Sarah jo, why didn't you let me take my original flight from bwi-rsw???

Aug 14Sent

Southwest Airlines

 

From the information we've received, it looks like you missed the connecting flight due to information being gathered at the time of departure from the altercation. Is that correct? -Sarah Jo ^SL

Aug 14

 

NelGood

 

No. That is not correct. I was on the aircraft and the pilot threw me off.

Aug 14Sent

Southwest Airlines

 

Would you be able to explain the situation from your perspective, Nelson? This way we can understand and evaluate the full scope of your experience. -Sarah Jo ^SL

Aug 14

 

NelGood

 

Do you want to call me?

Aug 14Sent

 

Southwest Airlines

 

We would only be able to discuss over this platform. If you would like to speak with someone over the phone, you are more than welcome to reach out to our Customer Relations Department at 1(855) 234-4654 tomorrow during normal operating hours. They will have access to this conversation. -Sarah Jo ^SL

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Aug 14

Not very sympathetic to someone whom they totally abused for no reason.

 

I ended up renting a car in Fort Lauderdale and driving the two and a half hours across Alligator Alley in the middle of the night. I made it to my hotel by 3:00 am and after a few short hours of sleep, made my 8:00 meeting.

I pay Southwest to do one thing and one thing only - that is to get me to my destination safely and on time. Period. I could care less about their silly singing safety briefings or bubble blowing flight attendants. I needed to get to a meeting and despite the obstacles they threw at me and the disgraceful service they provided, I made it.

I’ve made some sort of status with them for the past few years and sure wish they could have shown how much they value my business in a different way. I can say that flying out of a hub city for other airlines, I’m glad I have options.