Horror stories of passenger humiliations continue to shock us

by Chris Jernigan on May 13, 2008

Over the years, you’ve no doubt heard many horror stories of passengers being mistreated and humiliated in a variety of ways. It is entirely possible that you even have a horror story or two of your own.

A cursory look back over just the last few months, reminds us of such incidents as the one involving foreign customs agents who accused a Pennsylvania social worker of “being in contact with an illegal substance” and forced her to a body cavity search.

Then, there was the disabled woman — an Olympic champion no less — who was forced to sit on the plane for nearly two hours waiting for a wheelchair (after the airlines broke hers!) and was given no assistance to get to the restroom on time, resulting in an embarrassing accident for her.

While, admittedly being a totally different type of embarrassing situation, the latest such incident occurred back in February when New York resident Gokhan Mutlu arrived to check in for a flight from San Diego to New York on JetBlue.

He was told that the flight was full but was still allowed to board the plane after a flight attendant agreed to give up her seat and travel in an airline employee “jump seat”.

In a $2 million lawsuit filed by Mr. Multu in New York State Supreme Court against the airline, he alleges that 90 minutes into the flight the pilot approached him and told him that the flight attendant was uncomfortable and that she wanted her original seat back and that his only option was to spend the remainder of the flight (the next three and a half hours) “hanging out” in the airplane bathroom.

While the confrontation between the pilot and Mr. Multu occurred, the flight attendant in the meantime took Mutlu’s seat, closed her eyes and pretended to sleep.

The pilot “became angry at (Mutlu’s) reluctance” and said Mutlu, told him that he “should be grateful for being onboard.” When Mutlu volunteered to sit in the (now empty) jump seat, the pilot told him that it was reserved “for airline personnel only”.

The lawsuit states that the poor man suffered “extreme humiliation” over his lavatory imprisonment for the remainder of the flight which “seemed like an eternity” and that at one point, when the airplane experienced extreme turbulence, he even had to sit down on the toilet seat (obviously, with no seat belt) and that caused him “tremendous fear”.

I would also imagine it caused him tremendous anger.

When reached for comment, all that a JetBlue representative would say is that the company doesn’t comment on pending litigation.

We want to hear what you think of this incident. Perhaps you’ve even had such experiences of your own that you’d like to sound off about? Tell us all about it in the comments below!

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  • Randy

    As always, with cases like these, I wonder where are all the witness’? Surely with a full plane some people noticed?

  • N

    To be fair, you should have mentioned that Mr. Mutlu was flying standby and FOR FREE and therefore should have been ” grateful for being onboard.”

  • John

    N,
    Give me a break. Does safety not matter? How about the rest of the passengers not having a toilet? The point at which they let him on the airplane his fare class became irrelevant. What’s next? I get bumped out of my reward seat for a Flight Attendant who’s dead heading home? Would you be ok with that?
    Come on. The flight attendant agreed to ride in the jump seat. As an employee, they should have inconvenienced the employee before the customer no matter how he obtained his ticket.
    Any justification or support of Jet Blue on this is pig headed. I’ll guess you thought it was ok to strand passengers on planes for hours too.
    Having said that … $2 million is equally bad. Do they owe him something? Yep. But $2million is way too much

  • JMJ

    So, N, because the guy got on free, he should not have an expectation of safety? he should not have an expectation of comfort? he should not have an expectation of good service?

    Remind me not to patronize your business.

  • http://queenofsky.net Ellen Simonetti aka Queen of Sky

    This is a sad story…. as I just commented on Chris Elliot’s blog, buddy pass riders have always been treated as the lowest for life, but being made to sit in the lav! That’s a new low!

    I was a flight attendant for 8 years and traveled via jumpseat on almost a weekly basis. I even have ridden the jumpseat all the way back from Europe. It’s not comfortable, but it’s guaranteed, whereas standby travel is not.

    Most likely, that flight attendant chose the confirmed option (jumpseat) over the more comfortable and more risky standby option. I don’t know how things work at JetBlue, but she may not have been able to be both on the standby list and on the jumpseat. In other words, she wanted to have her cake and eat it too!

    If she truly wanted that passenger seat, she should have put herself on the standby list. That’s how it worked at my airline… anyhow, I could go on and on, but will stop here.

  • http://queenofsky.net Ellen Simonetti aka Queen of Sky

    P.S. Please tell Mr. Mutlu I am available as an expert witness ;)

  • MD

    Hmmm… I’m tempted to say “you get what you pay for,” but I won’t.

    He flew for free AND he was told the plane was full; he made that choice after being informed and so they “squeezed” him on board.

    I agree the lav isn’t exactly prime accommodation, although most lavs offer more legroom than standard coach, and you won’t have your neighbor’s elbow to contend with. But he missed out on the satellite TV, and it WAS the lav and certainly not ideal (the seat doesn’t recline), but $2MM? C’mon, settle for some free tickets (ha!) and get over it.

    :>)

  • Donna Williams

    JetBlue put him on the plane with the understanding that there was a seat for him, however he might have been traveling. Once he was on the plane, he had no choice in the matter. To have unseated him and treated him in this manner because an employee changes her mind in flight is unconscionable. $2million is a little much (a lot much actually), but if it causes JetBlue to train its pilots and flight attendants into a little more courtesy and common sense (it is against the rules to put a passenger in the jumpseat, but not in the lav for a whole flight? Doesn’t sound sensible to me…), then it would be worth it and of benefit to us all.
    With this kind of thinking, isn’t the next step handing him a parachute and putting him off the plane since the person in the jumpseat changed her mind? Remember, JetBlue put him on the plane and took away his choice once they were in flight. Unless they were still at the gate where he had the option of leaving the plane, the personnel aboard the plane should have left him in the seat and told the jumpseat rider to stay where she was (or put her in the lav instead…)

  • James

    Both “N” and “MD” are either idiots or JetBlue management. It doesn’t matter that he flew for free or that the flight was full or that they “squeezed” him in. Once on the plane he is guaranteed the same rights and safety as any revenue passenger. And don’t forget, the flight attendant was also a non-revenue passenger (i.e. she was not on duty and was flying for free). My guess is if this happened to “N” or “MD” they would be screaming even louder than Mutlu…and claiming that their situation was somehow different and warranted complaining.
    For those of you who think $2MM is too much: Ask yourself what that type of humiliation is worth to you or your loved ones; what price is appropriate for the danger he was exposed to. If this happened to you what amount would you ask for? (And no, free tickets is a ridiculous settlement – who would want to fly on the same airline after treatment like this? I no longer fly on America West for much less that what happened to Mutlu.) I, for one, hope he get $10MM and that both the flight crew and JetBlue are sanctioned by the DOT/FAA.

  • g lindholm

    I think the right to safe travel preempts the right to exercising an employee per,. Airplanes are not buses, and I think it can be generally agreed that a standing room only approach to letting folks fly is a disaster in the making (having experienced turbelence that lifted everyone on a plane 3 feet straight up into the air!). JetBlue screwed up letting ANYONE on a plane without a specific, seatbelted location. The passenger wasn’t thinking when he accepted such a nebulous “seat”, the gate folks weren’t thinking when they let him on, the dead head attendant certainly wasn’t thinking and didn’t care once he was on, and despite his “luck” in gettting on, the passenger should have been treated by the manager of that flight (the pilot) like a paying customer instead of a paid employee and been given safe passage. Afterall, he had to pay at some point to earn the free ride, so why would JetBlue want to risk limb and life of it’s client when a reasonable option was available, regardless of how inconvenient for the employee who was exercising her free ride perks. Everyone was putting convenience over safety and sanity, but JetBlue and all airline representatives have, as the service providers, the highest applicable standard among these parties for using good judgement and safe performance in the execution their responsibilities and duties. JetBlue should settle fast and clean up it’s act. No one on a jury who has EVER flown will be sympathetic to their case.

  • Poley

    1) For the record buddy passes are not free. You are responsible to pay taxes and fees. Depending on what airline your buddy works for these fees can be almost that of a regular ticket.

    2) Any flight attendant knows the jump seat is not comfortable and should have never agreed to give up a regular seat.

    3) Althought the jump seat is for airline employees only. If your going to break one rule might as well have it be the jump seat one rather risking someones life

  • Bill

    We are always told that we should remain in our seats, with seat belts fastened in case the plane incurs turbulence. Additionally, airline bathrooms are not the cleanest of places. It was a full plane, didn’t the other passengers need to use that bathroom?

    Putting the passenger in the bathroom was a bad idea. Pilots are in charge of aircraft and responsible for the passengers and crew. Since it is apparently the law to follow the instructions of the flight crew, therefore the pilot should not only be fired, but he should lose his FAA license for his extreme lack of judgement.
    Maybe some will think it is harsh, but I don’t. He shouldn’t be in charge of anyone with judgement like that.

    As for Jet Blue, they should have to pay a settlement which is significant enough for them to ensure that this never happens again. If it did indeed happen, why are they not settling out of court with the passenger? It would be an acknowlegement on their part that it is in fact wrong.

  • Amy

    I think it’s funny how the passenger was told to give up his seat because the attendant was “uncomfortable.” Her own fault. She needed to tough it out and keep her mouth shut in the future. I’ve flown next to smelly, oversized, snoring, loud, obnoxious passengers, even some who refused to get up when I had to go to the bathroom. On one such occasion, I chose to sit next to someone oversized because it was the last window on the plane, and I wanted to sleep. I should have thought twice when I was uncomfortable for the duration of the flight. In any case, the pilot sounds completely out of order, and if this is true, deserves to be severely disciplined.

  • Bob

    Gokhan Mutlu, probably a third worlder that doesn’t know the difference between a toilet and a chair. He’s got to be on welfare and figured this was another oppurtunity to make money without working.

  • marilyn parver

    I am a 56 yr old grandmother who has never had so much as a speeding ticket but on July 26th, I was taken by armed officers, in handcuffs, off Jet Blue flight #195 for
    refusing to delete a video I had taken of a
    minor altercation between passengers over a screaming kid .The flight
    crew MADE UP a charge of interfering with the crew!
    My recording proves I did nothing wrong. I never even stood up …I
    was left with the threat that I will never be able to fly on Jet Blue
    and I will have a report written about me filed with the FAA.
    I go onto that NO FLY LIST! I only refused to delete a LEGAL short video!
    This is a complete miss use of Federal power and what happened to me
    could happen to anyone.

  • LG

    I just can’t beleive what I’m reading here- especially you Bob- you should be, at the very least, ashamed of yourself, and at best, imprisoned for being such a right-wing knee-jerk reactionary fool. If the stated facts are true, JetBlue should be fined to within inches of bankruptcy, and that pilot barred from ever flying again. To put a passenger’s safety at risk for the comfort of an employee is completely unconscionable.

  • Stephanie

    If this guy was indeed standby, fly-for-free, and there were no seats then jet blue should have simply said, sorry “NO ROOM” and stuck by it. We seem so afraid to say no to people in our country for fear they’ll not like that that it’s become cultural trend to put ourselves in a position like jet blue did.

    I’ve only had one bad situation on an airline with air-staff: but it was a real dusy. American Airlines refused to aid me exiting an airplane with a child. One stewardess had been in a foul mood during the flight. When we arrived at Burbank I asked help carrying my infant son off the plane since I had an injured ankle and a carry-on bag [yes I bought a seat for the kid!] the airline had initially planned to have someone assist me off the plane, but that person never showed. I asked if she could call someone. She refused. I requested security. She refused – a violation of federal law. None of the crew intervened, offered help, none took her side either. I sensed she wanted a fight so I kept calm and tried to think of an option since I didnt anticipate this and feared injuring my child. This flight attendant removed her name tag. I asked her name. she refused it. A passenger helped me off the plane. When I reached the tarmac the angry attendant yelled at me how “people with kids were such a pain in her ass”. I ignored her. She followed me, verbally accosting. I told her that if she was still harassing me when I reached the terminal I’d call security. She then left me alone! I contacted security at the airport we left, which resulted in securing this attendant’s name and an apology letter from AA – but AA never offered compensation for my troubles. I thought this was rude given they offer so much to people who bitch about not getting enough peanuts. I’ve seen people complain about much less offensive behavior. and I’ve seen passengers treat attendants like crap and cause the rest of us trouble like this.

  • Carol Anglin

    I was traveling on the airline with my mom who can not walk and is in a wheelchair. I called Jetblue several times to find out the procedure for traveling with someone that could not transfer themselves. I was told that they would pick her up from the wheelchair and transfer her to her seat on all the 6 times I called. when I got to the airport I found that they staff would transfer her but we had to make it to the plane on our own because we had our own wheelchair. As we stood in line we watched people who could walk but may have been elderly or temporarily disabled whisked pass us to the front of the line. I then observed the staff watching me as I tried to push my mom down the ramp with one hand while toting my carry on luggage. One of the staff members in customs told another staff member to help me but the supervisor stepped in and told me that that wasn’t their job and they couldnt help me or get me any help. To add injury to insult. While transferring her to the seat on the plane they dropped her on the floor and then dragged her trying to pick her back up again. I watched in horror as I asked my mom was she okay. she said she was ok and that she wanted to just continue the trip so we did. When I returned home I reported the insident to Jet blue and could nt believe what they told me. they told me that they have a special service for people that have their own wheelchairs but I would have to request it by name. they told me that although I called explaining the situation at least 6 times no one would tell me over the phone nor at the ticket agent window when I asked about some help about this service. And that was the answer. No apology about dropping the women…no remorse about having to guide a wheelchair up and down ramps with carry on in my hand. My mom is ok so I didnt spend any more time on this but now that I am writing this I think I should sue for mental anquish or something.

  • Ernestina Xavier

    A similar situation happen to me, although I don’t think that I suffered as much as Mr. Multu. I had a buddy pass for continental and had a connecting flight from Boston to Newark then Tampa. After arriving in Newark I was seated on the scheduled flight. AFter being seated for about 10 minutes the flight attendant tells me that I need to leave because they have to seat all of the paying customers first. i was forced to leave the flight as everyone stared and was completely humiliated. To add to the sting, the continental worker was being completely nasty about the entire situation. She was extremely rude and didn’t even apologize for them miscounting and adding me to the flight. Because it was a connecting flight, I was stuck in Newark from 8:30 pm to 6:40 am because that was the next available flight and did not know anyone in Newark. I would have to say that this was the worst service I have ever received. Another worker offered to see if they could set me up with a hotel but he never came back to tell even tell me that he wasn’t able to accomplish that. WORST EXPERIENCE EVER. I just want to know, are they allowed to kick you off the seat after already giving you one? because that is just wrong.

  • Chuichupachichi

    Freakin Ay Jack, one time I was on this soaring sardine can in the sky and the beer girls were really something, Jack! Ohh yea they were.
    After one in particular had been playing eye tag with me for a while, there came the moment in which the sexy sky doll was strut’n down the aisle in my direction with a gleeful grin and peepers gazing at me

    However, since before she had started this way, I had been trading guy gab with some dude across the aisle and I was still spit’n words as I turned to make eye contact with her as she closed in. Right as she prowled to within pouncing distance, I said “hey, it looks like our airline stewardess is here”

    ohhhh man! woooe Jack, look out! It was like we suddenly flew into an ominously outrageous storm cloud. Dammit man, if looks could kill, I’d have been a sky high homicide victim of a pissed off “FLIGHT ATTENDANT”

    From what I’ve discovered, I guess if you call em a “Airline Stewardess”, it’s like you said the magic words that makes it open season for pinch’n their butt, or something?

    Later I asked for a pillow & she was asphyxiating me with it. Then, just as I was about to finally get my hand on the overhead oxygen mask, another one of them let go of the cup of beer she was holding so she can use that hand to beat me to the mask as the beer splashed all over my pant legs

    Later I didn’t see the one standing just behind my seat when I got up to go to the restroom & she opened the overhead bag compartment just in time to crash down on my head. When I was finally walking back, a sexy sheer covered leg suddenly stretched out from the cabin side, center facing seat & tripped me up, face down on the aisle in front of about 12 seats of a traveling female volleyball team

    I’m glad that just then the really funny scene from the JFK assassination conspiracy movie was showing. Cuz that made them laugh so hard that I don’t think they even noticed me

    I’m still not exactly sure how all that works, cuz you know, females are difficult to understand, but there’s something about the words “FLIGHT ATTENDANT” that makes some kind of a shielding energy force field surround their butt and makes it immune to pinch’n

    But despite all that air service, you can’t sue them for that kind of stuff. Cuz they show up in court with this real fancy, high time lady lawyer that wears Barbarella Boots. While they tell you that you can’t even say anything cuz something about you didn’t pass them a candy bar or something

    I’m all wore down to a frazzle, worth a few million and the judge wants a Snickers bar

    Buying my own plane….dammit!

  • Pahaha

    All you people are so quick to condemn others. There will always be people who sympathize with both Mr. Multu and Jet. Blue. And I don’t think anyone on here is actually getting back on again to hear what others say. Which, as I’m typing this makes this message moot, but whatever. Trying to make the best of a bad situation usually results in a crappy(forgive my pun) solution. I’d say take the situation to heart, if the flight is full don’t board, and if worst comes to worst it’s only a couple hours. Better to sit in the restroom than stand. Plus if you’ve ever been on a plane, you always wish you were in the restroom just to have some alone time. No screaming kids, that nice mirror, and should the urge come you don’t have to crawl over bunches of people.

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