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Dr. Jessie Au, 68, and her husband Dr. M.G. “Guill” Wientjes, 66, retired professors of pharmaceutics from Ohio State University who have been married for almost 40 years, told Forbes that they were kicked off a United flight on June 24.
The elderly couple was traveling from Washington D.C., where they were seeking research grants, to Los Angeles.
They claimed a flight attendant took both of their boarding passes and lost them, but the employee later reportedly said the couple was not carrying them.
A passenger sitting in the back of the plane found the passes on the floor, but Au, who is originally from Hong Kong, was yelled at after tapping the flight attendant’s elbow from her seat and resulted in the couple being removed from the plane for “no good reason.”
“The flight attendant and gate agent both yelled at us. We were traumatized. You could hear them screaming throughout the plane,” Au recounted.
Au and Wientjes were placed in a hotel provided by United and told they could travel on a later flight. But the woman claimed that her name was put on an internal watch list and questioned on later flights, according to the Daily Mail.
They were reportedly threatened to be banned from future United flights after the airline called the woman “belligerent” in a review following the incident.
Au claimed, “UA violated their Contract of Carriage that a seated passenger cannot be removed unless the passenger presents a security or safety risk.”
“The CEO and President of UA have repeatedly vowed to improve their service and make passengers feel good. We would like them to live up to their words and revise their policy and procedures so that what happened to us cannot happen to other passengers,” she added.
United claims they were in conversation with the couple in July.
“At United, we hold ourselves to the highest standards of professionalism. Following this issue, we reached out to our customers and our team to find out what happened,” a United spokesperson told NextShark via email.
However, the couple tells a different story. Au gave NextShark this statement:
“First, throughout the entire ordeal, no human beings from UA contacted us nor offered an apology for their employees’ mistakes or their mistreatment of us. This is in contrary to what UA said/implied to the Forbes writer (i.e., someone in UA contacted us to talk through the incident, which is untrue as all we had from them were the PIRC letters.) The only human contact we had with UA was an agent named Marcus who, the day after receiving the inquiry from the Forbes writer, called to inquire about the ‘ban’ I was subjected to in the two flights taken after the incident. Marcus stated that he had no knowledge about the incident. He called back a day or two later and indicated he was able to remove the ‘ban’ or to that effect. Second, the flight attendant yelled at us and threatened to remove us long before I tapped her elbow.
“To summarize, we sat in our assignment seats. Twenty minutes later, another passenger showed up with the same seat assignment. We gave our paper boarding passes to the flight attendant, who looked at it (should have recognized then we were sitting where we should be), took it to the back, lost it, and then called us liars and threatened to throw us out. The flight attendant apparently dropped it two rows back because, when or shortly after the flight attendant started the confrontation, the passenger sitting in 23C found it, passed it to passengers in 22D and 22C who then passed it to us (22D and 22C are the parents of a family sitting one row behind us). We then asked the flight attendant and gate attendant to look at the recovered boarding pass, so that they would not use the missing boarding pass as the excuse to kick us off the flight. But the flight and gate attendant refused to acknowledge us, which was why we tapped her elbow. Nonetheless they refused to look at the boarding pass and continued to work on kicking us off the plane (even after we asked another flight attendant to work on resolving and de-escalating the situation), and eventually succeeded on getting us to voluntarily leave (to spare other passengers from further delays due to deplaning and re-boarding). The flight/gate attendant apparently also managed to initiate the PIRC (Passenger Incident Review Committee) review process and ban/harass me in subsequent flights.
“We received a letter from PIRC at about 1:00 a.m., or 2-3 hours after being removed from the flight, stating that we had 96 hours to provide our version of the events or face a lifetime ban from UA. It was implied that we would be banned for life if we could not successfully defend ourselves. We provided a list of non-UA employee potential witnesses (e.g., passengers seated behind us and were trying to help us; unfortunately we do not have the names or contact info). We submitted our response within the 96 hour deadline (non-negotiable based on the language of the PIRC email). PIRC then took two months to complete its review. In its decision letter, PIRC says UA will allow us to continue to fly with them, but labeled us as being belligerent for disobeying crew instructions, plus being physical threatening, without given any evidence to support their conclusions. The PIRC letter was also very negative and threatening in nature.”
Au also explained that their intention in coming forward with this ordeal is to “heighten UA Management’s awareness that their current policies and procedures give their crew members unchecked power to abuse passengers.”
“In addition, their PIRC review procedures are nothing more than an exercise to put more blame on the passengers. We hope that this knowledge will motivate them to review and revise their SOP so that others do not have to suffer the same,” she added