The Brief

In May 2018, a woman was removed from a Spirit Airlines flight from Atlanta to Las Vegas because she allegedly ran past a gate attendant after being told she was too late to board, refused to leave the plane when asked by the flight crew, and screamed profanities at the flight crew.1 Ultimately, all of the other passengers had to deplane before officers could escort the woman off of the plane. All of this occurred while the pilots were focusing on completing preflight checks and preparing the aircraft for takeoff to ensure a safe flight. This incident, like many others where passengers are removed from commercial flights, was recorded, posted on social media, and highlighted by various news organizations. The woman removed from the Spirit Airlines flight streamed the entire event via “Facebook Live,” and the video has been viewed more than 4.5 million times on Facebook alone.

Authors: Oliver Beiersdorf Catherine E. Kiernan

With heightened social awareness regarding the safety of commercial flight as well as evolving airline regulations, it is critical that a pilot in command have the authority and discretion to remove passengers who may be a threat to safety. An airplane in flight is a unique environment with special risks, and a pilot in command often must make quick decisions based solely on information relayed from other crew members. While the public may be able to watch a video of a situation on a plane that results in a passenger’s removal multiple times and consider alternatives and outcomes in hindsight, pilots and flight crew have to react in real time to ensure the safety of all passengers in an enclosed environment while flying thousands of feet in the air. 

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