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United Airlines passenger incident sparks abrupt, strong reaction

Unruly passenger behavior during air travel has been attracting increasing attention as unfortunate incidents have happened with more regularity the past few years.

And one episode on a recent United Airlines  (UAL)  flight has prompted some discussion about presumptions people have about each other.

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During the Covid-19 pandemic, frustrated travelers — often fueled by overconsumption of alcohol — frequently clashed with flight attendants over compliance with mask-wearing requirements and other matters.

But unruly passenger incidents only increased from 2021 to 2022, after most pandemic rules and restrictions had already been lifted.

On a recent United Airlines airplane, one passenger was removed from a flight after a bizarre confrontation with a woman at a boarding gate in Houston, according to a post in the r/unitedairlines subreddit. 

“My sister and her husband don’t fly United often, so when the GA (gate agent) started whispering the pre-boarding process and I went up when GS (and 1k at the same time) was called, they followed me, even though they were group 1,” CanWeBeSure wrote. “When my sister went to scan her boarding pass, a man behind her said ‘you shouldn’t be here, I have priority.’ She replied with, ‘You know, it pays to be kind sometimes.’ The man said, ‘how’s this for being kind?’ and proceeded to bump into her, knocking her off balance.”

The sister, according to the post, told family members what happened when they got to their seats, because she was behind them when the incident occurred and they didn’t see it.

“A few minutes later, a FA (flight attendant) asked her about what happened and whether she felt safe on the plane with that man on board,” the story continued. “She didn’t jump to say she felt unsafe, but she gave an honest recount of what happened. The FA said that was all she needed to hear and said she would discuss it with the pilots.”

“Shortly after, the GA approached the man a few rows behind us and told him that he could either get off the plane or they would make him get off the plane,” the writer continued. “He stood up, grabbed his bag, and walked off as we heard an applause from behind us.”

A United Airlines aircraft is seen flying above clouds.

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First, he remembered reading a trip report years ago where another travel writer, boarding for first class, had a business class passenger shove past him saying “business class.”

“The business class passenger mind just couldn’t comprehend a young kid flying first (and may not have even known about such a thing as true first class),” Leff wrote.

Leff also recounted how, historically, women were a small minority of first class passengers.

“Young women stood out in a sea of middle aged men — but often received dismissive treatment, including from female flight attendants,” Leff wrote.

In the Houston United Airlines incident, one benefit of early boarding is that passengers don’t have to gate check their bags, Leff noted. Also, Global Services and 1K passengers do not have to stand in line for long and generally can expect to find overhead bin space near their seat locations.

“The person doing the shoving here was accomplishing both of those things, whether the woman he shoved got on ahead of her or not,” Leff wrote. “Shoving was just an act of rage against someone he didn’t feel deserved to get on ahead of him, even though he was disadvantaged in no way at all.”

“There’s a weird status game going on here that at least most of us avoid turning into physical aggression,” Leff continued. “And as a part of that game we engage in assumptions about the people around us, and about who they are and therefore what they’re entitled to — and those assumptions are wrong more than we’re programmed to realize.”

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