The 17 Most Controversial Travel Incidents Of 2017 Gallery

The 17 Most Controversial Travel Incidents of 2017

Travel can be tough and sometimes even downright scary. With delays, cancellations, check-ins, and so many people in enclosed spaces, tensions can run high whether you're stranded at the airport or well on your way to your destination. Travel employees and customers alike can be put into high-stress situations very quickly thousands of feet in the air or thousands of miles out to sea.

This past year was quite eventful in terms of news, and that was no less true for travel. Top airlines seemed to be constantly under fire for mishaps concerning passengers being refused or even dragged off of planes. Cruise ships were struck with mass illness or even banned from cities entirely. Social media played a huge role in making these events bigger than they may have otherwise been, which was a disaster for travel PR personnel but possibly a blessing in terms of accountability. Who knows what 2018 may hold for those of us who love to trot the globe, but 2017 sure did see some of the most controversial travel incidents we've seen.

American Airlines Allows Too Many Pilots to Take Vacation

Earlier this month, it was revealed that a scheduling glitch allowed an excessive number of American Airlines pilots to go on vacation around Christmastime, resulting in over 10,000 scheduled holiday flights having no one to fly them. The airline has since assured its travelers that there will be no cancellations, but it has struggled to get enough pilots to drop their holiday plans in exchange for double-time pay if they work between December 17 and December 31. Approximately 1,200 flights are still without a pilot, mostly in the eastern U.S. Over 150 pilots are still needed for international flights from Charlotte between December 23 and 28, whereas around 200 are needed for those flying out of Dallas-Ft. Worth and Miami each. Allied Pilots Association Dennis
Tajer told Forbes that the reason for the difficulty in getting pilots to agree to fly over the holidays is the rarity of holiday vacations in their field. American Airlines insists the issue will be solved, however, stating in a press release that "if Santa is flying, so is American."

American Airlines Removes Black Activist

In October, Tamika Mallory claimed she was kicked off her flight home to New York from Miami after the plane's pilot got involved in an argument she had with a gate agent over her seat. After changing her seat from middle to aisle at an airport kiosk, the civil rights activist was issued a ticket at the gate with her old seat. Mallory alleged to the New York Daily News that when she questioned this, the gate agent was "nasty" and "disrespectful." Afterwards, a pilot who had overheard the conversation, stopped her and defended the employee, accusing Mallory of disrespectful behavior. After Mallory was seated, she was called to the front of the plane where she says the pilot pointed at her and said "Her, off." Mallory was given no explanation as to her removal, and police officers soon arrived to escort her off. Mallory, who was national co-chair of the Women's March in January, stated that she felt the pilot's actions were racially motivated. "It definitely was white male aggression," she told the New York Daily News. "I was singled out, I was disrespected, and he was trying to intimidate me." After tweeting about her ordeal, Mallory says an American Airlines representative was sent to her to rebook her flight, but she never received an explanation as to her removal.

American Airlines Removes Mother From Flight Over Stroller

American Airlines found itself in hot water after black Harvard Law student accused the airline of putting her in danger after a pilot called law enforcement to remove her from a plane. On August 21, airline staff refused to bring Briana Williams the stroller she had checked in for her 4-year-old daughter when they found themselves having to disembark a delayed flight. Williams refused to leave the plane without said stroller and spoke with a pilot whom she described as "very disgruntled and aggressive." The pilot called police to have her removed from the aircraft, an act that Williams said in a public statement "put me in a potentially dangerous situation with law enforcement as a young, black woman, saying that I was a 'threat.'" Williams and her child were put on another flight the next morning, and she refused the airline's offer of 25,000 miles, intending to pursue legal action and ensure that the airline reviews its policies regulating the pilot's actions in cases such as this.

Ann Coulter Attacks Delta Air Lines for Seat Mix-up

When right-wing political commentator Ann Coulter found that the seat she had pre-booked on a Delta Air Lines flight from New York to West Palm Beach was already taken by another passenger, she took to Twitter to insult the airline, its employees, and the passenger in question. Originally having booked a window seat in the emergency exit row, Coulter paid a $30 upcharge less than 24 hours before the flight to switch to the aisle seat in the same row which came with extra leg room. A system glitch resulted in her being moved back to the window seat, however, a fact she discovered upon boarding the plane. This resulted in an angry two-day Twitter tirade by Coulter in which she referred to the passenger sitting in her seat as "dachshund-legged" and derogatorily implied she was an immigrant, tweeting "Immigrants take American jobs (& seats on @Delta)." She also tweeted "Does your union hate you, @Delta?" implying that Delta gate agents are union-protected despite the fact that Delta employees are not part of any union. Delta, for their part, made a public apology and said they were attempting to contact Coulter about a refund for her upcharge. They also responded to the conservative writer on Twitter, adding that "your insults about our other customers and employees are unacceptable and unnecessary."

British Airways Passenger Forced to Sit in Urine

A passenger on a British Airways flight told the British tabloid The Sun that he was made to sit in a urine-soaked seat on a South Africa-bound flight from London earlier this year in August. IT consultant Andrew Wilkinson, 39, claims that he informed the flight attendants of his predicament but was merely handed some wet wipes to clean himself up with. Of course, the wet wipes failed to do the trick, so Wilkinson requested he be moved up to business class. His request was turned down, so Wilkinson sat on a blanket which he says also became soaked through with the urine. "By the end of the flight, I could feel it seeping into my jeans," he told The Sun, also claiming he paid £1,242 (approximately $1,667) for the 11-hour flight. He said he was compensated for his troubles with 5,000 frequent flyer miles. In a statement made to Business Insider, British Airways claimed they had contacted Wilkinson with an apology and stated that the flight had no other empty seats to which they could have moved him.

Delta Air Lines Threatens Family With Foster Care

On April 23, California couple Brian and Brittany Schear claim that they and their two infant children were kicked off of their Maui-to-Los Angeles flight for refusing to give up their 2-year-old son's seat, after being threatened with jail time and having their children sent to foster care. A video shows the couple arguing with airline or airport officials who told them they had to give up their paid seat for standby passengers. The argument escalates to such an extent that an employee tells the Schears they will be kicked off the plane if they did not acquiesce. Brian Schear can be heard saying, "Then they can remove me off the plane." The employee replies that Schear's actions constitute a federal offense which could result in the couple going to jail and their kids being placed in foster care. The employee is also heard telling them that their 2-year-old could not sit in a seat that was purchased in the name of the Schears' teenage son who was not present, and another employee can be heard telling them that the child had to be sitting in an adult's lap. Schear informed them that their son had sat in a seat on the way to Maui. The Federal Aviation Administration's website confirms that small children are encouraged to sit in a car seat throughout their flight, as the Schears' son was. The couple told NBC News that they had to find their own transportation and hotel after midnight, as well as purchase new tickets for a flight the next day. Delta has publicly apologized to the family and offered a refund as well as additional compensation, but the Schears claimed that they were never contacted.

EasyJet Employee Punches Passenger Holding Baby

A long flight delay at Nice Airport in France on July 30 culminated in a passenger getting assaulted by an airport employee, the punch landing inches away from a baby being carried by the victim in question. During the 13-hour delay of London-bound EasyJet Flight 2122, airline employees failed to communicate with waiting travelers, passenger Arabella Arkwright told The Washington Post, giving out meager food vouchers instead. After yet another delay regarding the plane's doors, a man holding an infant approached an employee of Samsic — a contract company that helps with customers at Nice Airport — for further information when the conversation became heated. Arkwright claims she saw the employee push a cell phone out of the passenger's hand and the passenger pushed the employee back as if to protect the baby in his arms. Arkwright then captured a photo of what happened next: the airport employee punching the man in the face. Both men were then escorted away by airport security guards, although the passenger did end up making his flight once it took off. The employee received an immediate suspension, after which his fate is unclear.

NAACP Issues Travel Advisory for American Airlines

On October 24, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) issued a travel advisory warning black passengers against traveling with American Airlines. Its advisory, posted on the organization's website, cited "a pattern of disturbing incidents reported by African-American passengers, specific to American Airlines." Four specific examples were used, including the aforementioned incidents involving New York activist Tamika Mallory and Harvard law student Briana Williams. The NAACP has warned that flying with American airlines could subject black travelers to "disrespectful, discriminatory, or unsafe conditions" thanks to a corporate culture of racial bias and insensitivity. American Airlines CEO Doug Parker issued a memo to company staff expressing his disappointment with the advisory and expressed that the company does not tolerate any sort of discrimination. Leaders of both parties met last month for dialogue, but no further actions were made.

Royal Caribbean Buffet Poisons Almost 200 Passengers

A Royal Carribbean cruise ship saw an outbreak of gasteroenteritis earlier this month, which resulted in 195 passengers taking ill. After eating from a "bottomless buffet" aboard Ovation of the Seas, passengers began experiencing diarrhea and vomiting. All food services were shut down, and ship doctors gave those affected over-the-counter-medication to treat their symptoms. The ship docked in Hobart, Tasmania, where three ambulances arrived on the scene and five passengers were taken to a local hospital for further treatment. Crew members quickly took action, spraying hallways with sanitizer.

Southwest Airlines Forcibly Removes Pregnant Muslim Woman From Flight

In September, a video of 46-year-old Maryland professor Anila Daulatzai being dragged off a Southwest flight by police officers went viral on social media. The airline claims that Daulatzai informed staff she had a life-threatening allergy to dogs which were present on the plane but failed to provide a medical certificate, without which passengers can be denied boarding. Daulatzai told ABC News, however, that she only asked a flight attendant how many dogs there were going to be on the flights, specifically letting them know that her allergy was not life-threatening. According to Daulatzai, cabin crew members kept asking about her allergy and seemed uncomfortable with her being on the flight, even after she had taken a seat away from the dogs. In a public statement, Daulatzai's attorneys alleged that an airline representative asked her to leave the aircraft and when she refused, police offers came and "pulled her from her seat by her belt loop," dragging her down the airplane aisle "exposed with torn pants."  She was then arrested and charged with disorderly conduct, disturbing the peace, failure to obey a reasonable and lawful order, obstructing and hindering a police officer, and resisting arrest. The statement claims that Daulatzai, who was two months pregnant at the time of the incident, was "profiled, abused, interrogated, detained, and subjected to false reporting and the trauma of racist, vitriolic public shaming precisely because she is a woman, a person of color, and a Muslim." Maryland Transportation Authority Police stood by the actions of the officers, stating that Daulatzai's removal was within its guidelines, while Southwest Airlines made a statement publicly apologizing to Daulatzai and claims to have made multiple attempts to contact her. According to her attorneys, Daulatzai had to leave her home after the incident due to hate mail and violent threats that she received.

Spirit Airlines Removes Breastfeeding Mother

The most recent incident occurred this past week on December 11, when a woman claimed that Spirit Airlines removed her from a Houston-to-Newark flight for breastfeeding her 2-year-old son. Concert pianist and cancer researcher Mei Rui claims that her flight was still at the gate and passengers were not even all seated when she was asked to stop breastfeeding her son. Rui says she asked to be allowed a few minutes so that her son, restless from a long flight delay, could fall asleep. By the time passengers were asked to deplane for yet another delay, Rui claims her son was back in his seat, but upon reboarding, she and her family were refused.  A Spirit spokesman contradicted Rui's account, stating that the woman had been asked multiple times to buckle her son into his seat after the plane's doors had closed. Police were then called when Rui attempted to force her way back onto the plane. Rui declined an offer by Spirit Airlines to refund and rebook her entire trip.

Spirit Airlines Allegedly Removes Woman for Showing Too Much Cleavage

"Maybe Spirit Airlines should change their name to Mean-Spirited Airlines," lawyer Ken Padowitz told Inside Edition after his client Brenda — who has chosen not to disclose her full name to the public — was allegedly booted from her flight with the airline due to her cleavage. In early February, the 21-year-old claimed that she had boarded her flight from New Orleans to Fort Lauderdale when flight attendants accused her of intoxication and belligerence. When she told them she was not drunk, Brenda claimed that a cabin crew member told her that her cleavage was excessive and that she needed to cover up. Brenda has claimed severe embarrassment and inability to sleep in the wake of the incident, which she says ended with her being pressured to put on a coat before disembarking. A Spirit spokesman informed Local 10 that Brenda was removed from the plane due to drunken behavior, not her clothing, but admitted that a flight attendant told Brenda that she "might want to cover up" as she was leaving the plane. At least two other witnesses have corroborated Brenda's story, however, including Cathy Supp, a stranger to Brenda who claimed in a Facebook post that another flight attendant made loud and rude comments about Brenda's cleavage even after the woman tried to pull up her shirt. Supp claims she was also removed from the plane for offering the crying Brenda a tissue.

Uber Breaks Strike During Travel Ban Protests

Airports across the country were embroiled in protests early this year after Donald Trump signed an executive order implementing a travel ban on seven Muslim-majority countries on January 27. New York taxi drivers joined the protest by refusing service to John F. Kennedy airport for an hour on January 28, the day the protests began, with the New York Taxi Workers Alliance tweeting "NO PICKUPS @ JFK Airport 6 PM to 7PM today. Drivers stand in solidarity with thousands protesting inhumane & unconstitutional #MuslimBan." Rideshare company Uber took a different tactic, however, when its New York City Twitter account tweeted the same day "Surge pricing has been turned off at #JFK Airport. This may result in longer wait times. Please be patient." Before long, #DeleteUber started trending on Twitter, with users calling on each other to delete not just their Uber app but also their account. Despite Uber's insistence just a couple months later that the company was doing fine in wake of the controversy, a New York Times report revealed that approximately 500,000 users had requested deletion of their accounts in the week after Uber crossed the picket line.

United Airlines Forcibly Removes Kentucky Doctor for Refusing to Give Up Seat

One of the biggest travel scandals of the year occurred on April 9, when a Kentucky doctor was violently removed from United Express Flight 3411 after he refused to give up his seat. Social media lit up with video and images of David Dao, an American of Vietnamese-Chinese background, being literally dragged off the plane by O'Hare International Airport police. The situation started when passengers were offered travel vouchers in exchange for giving up their seats for four airline employees. When none accepted, four were selected at random, one of whom was Dao. When Dao refused, airport police pulled him out of his seat screaming, causing him to hit his face on an armrest. The officers then dragged Dao, apparently unconscious and on his back, by his arms down the aisle of the plane, and he was seen later with blood around his mouth as well.  To make matters worse, United CEO Oscar Munoz issued a public statement justifying the ordeal and also sent out an email to United employees praising the actions of the crew and condemning Dao as "belligerent." The mishap resulted in another statement, this time apologetic, and Munoz's denial of a previously planned promotion to chairman. On April 27, Dao reached a settlement with United on undisclosed terms.

United Airlines Refuses 2 Passengers for Leggings

On March 26, two teenage girls were kept from boarding their flight from Denver to Minneapolis, after a United Airlines gate agent refused them on the basis of the fact that they were wearing leggings. A third girl had to put on a dress over her own leggings before being allowed to get on the plane. After a witness tweeted about the incident, United responded to the tweets, saying that the company has "the right to refuse passengers who are not properly clothed via our Contract of Carriage," adding that the decision to do so is left to the gate agents' discretion. However, said contract does not define "properly clothed." A United Airlines spokesman confirmed the incident, adding that the two girls were traveling with a United employee pass and that company benefit travel required adherence to a dress code, which specifically forbids leggings. The spokesman said in a public statement that while regular passengers are allowed to wear leggings, pass travelers are not, a rule that he claimed the passengers in question were aware of.

United Airlines Threatens to Handcuff Passenger

Another United passenger claims to have received bad treatment in April when he was threatened with being handcuffed if he did not give up his seat for a "high-priority" traveler. Geoff Fearns, a 59-year-old California businessman, was waiting for takeoff on his flight to Los Angeles from Hawaii's Lihue Airport when a United employee told him he had to leave the airplane due to the flight being overbooked. When Fearns refused, he was informed that the airline needed to give his seat to a last-minute passenger who was higher on the priority list than he was. Due to earlier mechanical problems, the flight had been switched to a smaller airplane with a smaller first class section, resulting in more first class passengers than available seats. Fearns was informed that if he didn't give up his seat, he would be put in handcuffs. He claims that an airline employee then downgraded him to an economy class seat between a bickering married couple who refused to sit next to each other. His request for a full refund and a $25,000 donation to a charity of his choosing was refused, and he was offered instead a refund for the difference between his first-class seat and an economy ticket in addition to $500 credit. United has failed to comment on the incident.

Venice Bans Cruise Ships

The Italian government decided in November that big cruise ships will be banned from sailing through the Venice city center by 2022 after local complaints. The decision states that ships above 55,000 tons will no longer be allowed to sail through the Guidecca Canal, which runs through the city center, and will now dock at the Maghera port rather than on the island of Venice. Venetians had been protesting the presence of the ships for years, claiming that they caused environmental and cultural damage to the city. Indeed, the city's World Heritage status was threatened when the United Nations warned that Venice would be put on UNESCO's list of endangered sites if steps weren't taken to ban the cruise ships. Mass rallies have been held protesting the ships, and riot police have even had to protect cruise ships and their passengers from protesters in the past. For more of a lookback on travel this past year, check out the 17 scariest airplane moments of 2017.