Letter: Experiencing airline madness

Posted 2/3/22

I was in the terminal, waiting to board my night flight from San Francisco to Philadelphia after Christmas, and everyone around me was wearing their masks properly except for one guy.

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Letter: Experiencing airline madness


I was in the terminal, waiting to board my night flight from San Francisco to Philadelphia after Christmas, and everyone around me was wearing their masks properly except for one guy. A blond man, 40-ish, wore a mask that covered his chin but not his mouth or nose. “With my luck,” I thought to myself, “when I get on the plane, he’ll be sitting next to me.”

He wasn’t. He was sitting directly behind me. Still wearing his mask around his chin. His wife, in the window seat with a baby in her arms, wore her mask properly. But their young daughter didn’t wear a mask at all. And she had a really bad cough. She coughed and coughed and coughed without stopping. And without covering her mouth.

Not only that, but she kept standing behind my seat and poking her little face through the space between my seat and the seat beside mine, and coughing. There was nothing I could do about her, but I quietly asked the flight attendant to ask the dude in seat 12D to cover his nose. A moment later, I was relieved to overhear her doing just that.

As the plane pulled away from the terminal and headed toward the runway, Mr. Chin Mask got into a fight with the guy seated behind him. Voices were raised. Angry words were exchanged. Soon his wife joined in, and as both of them began yelling at the fellow behind them, I overheard the flight attendant phoning the cockpit to tell the pilot that there was a situation shaping up in row 12. Meanwhile, their daughter kept on coughing.

A moment later, the captain announced that the plane had to return to the gate because of an issue that had to be settled before we could take off. So we headed back to the terminal. Then we all sat there for a while. 

Soon, a uniformed woman in her 40s with a no-nonsense attitude got on the plane, went up to Mr. Chin Mask and told him politely but firmly that he had to leave the aircraft.

“Why?” he demanded.

“Noncompliance,” she said.

“What did I do?”

“We can discuss that when you’re off the plane,” she said. Very calm. Very professional.

“No! You’re going to tell me now.”

“I’d be happy to discuss it with you once you’ve left the plane.”

They went back and forth a few times. Mr. Chin Mask kept insisting on being told what he’d done. The airline official kept saying that she’d tell him after he’d left the plane.

“I refuse to leave unless you tell me now,” he said finally.

“Fine,” she said. “Then we’ll call the cops, and they’ll take you off the plane.”

Then he and his family got up and filed off the plane.

Five minutes later, an airline official turned up and removed their luggage from the overhead compartment. (And two seconds after that, another passenger had claimed their now-empty row of seats.)

As we were waiting to take off again, I quietly thanked Joanna, the flight attendant, for taking action instead of ignoring the situation.

“It’s much better to get people like that off the plane before we leave than trying to deal with them in flight,” she told me, “and we had our eye on him even before you spoke to me. He already had a run-in with the gate agent.”

This time, the plane got to the runway and took off without incident.

Once we were aloft and the lights were dimmed, all three of the people in the seats across the aisle from me quietly pulled their masks down to their chins and kept them there for the rest of the flight.

I didn’t report them to the flight attendant. I just added an extra mask to the two masks I was already wearing and went to sleep. Wearing three face masks.

Now that I’m home safe and sound, I plan to stay out of circulation for four days and then get tested to make sure I’m virus-free. I also plan to cancel all travel plans I’d made for January. Maybe I’m being overly sensitive, but people just don’t seem to be taking this current variant seriously enough.

Kudos to Joanna, the flight attendant, and to American Airlines for taking Mr. Chin Mask and his coughing daughter off the plane.

Roz Warren