United Airlines

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Live and Lets Fly has been silent the last three days as I weighed how I wanted to cover what happened to me on a United Airlines flight from Newark to Istanbul last week. The situation was both traumatizing and highly embarrassing and I wanted to ensure that I had ample time to consider what transpired before hurling any accusations or failing to understand the other side. But frankly, the more I replay the incident in my mind, the more certain I become that I was wronged. Heres my story:

Last Thursday I was scheduled to fly from Newark to Istanbul on Uniteds direct flight. The 767-300 was outfitted in a two-cabin configuration, staffed by a legacy United crew, and I had been upgraded to business class. It was my first time on this reconfigured aircraft and my first longhaul in the Continental BusinessFirst seat. Naturally, I wanted to provide a review for you.

As I settled into my seat, I pulled out my iPhone to take a few pictures of the seat. When I held the phone at forehead level to take the picture below, a flight attendant came running over and told me that I could not take any pictures of the cabin. She referenced this section of the Hemispheres magazine:

"I want you to understand why I was taking pictures. I hope you didnt think I was a terrorist. Here is my business card [offering her one]. I write about United Airlines on an almost-daily basis and the folks at United in Chicago are even aware of my blog."

She took my jacket but refused to take my business card saying, "No, thats okay," then saying, "I did not know that" after I explained my reason for taking pictures. I again emphasize, I took no more pictures.

A few minutes later a Global Services rep came onboard and asked to have a word with me, motioning for me to follow him. As I walked up front, I noticed the FA who had reprimanded me earlier ducked into the front galley and out of sight.

The GS rep stepped into the galley, around the corner, and asked the FA to verify it was me. She leaned forward, our eyes briefly meant, then she quickly hid herself again. Yes, she meant me.

Captain: My FA tells me she told you to stop taking pictures and you continued to take pictures.

Captain: Look, I dont care. You are not flying on this flight. You can make this easy or make this difficult. Well call the police if we have to.

Captain: Look, were already late. Id advise you to get off this plane now. Make it easy on yourself. Dont make us bring the police in. Goodbye.

Me: Wait. Captain, may I have one of your business cards?

Captain: I dont have any, but United will have no trouble finding me. My name is...[removed].

With that, he turned and retreated back into the flight deck, with the female first officer looking on.

I looked at the GS rep and shook my head. I walked back to my seat, opened the overhead bin, and retrieved my garment bag and rollerboard. There were whispers throughout the business class and Economy Plus cabins as I made the walk of shame down the aisle.

Again, I was asked to step off the aircraft and said, "Just as soon as I get my coat back." The only FA who knew which coat was mine was still hiding somewhere, so she had to be found in order to retrieve my coat. I never saw her again.

As I walked down the jetway and back into the terminal, I remarked, "I want you to note that I was cooperative in your report and that the FA lied about me taking further pictures."

We began working on alternative arrangements that would preserve my upgrade to business class to Istanbul. Because of the sold-out cabins on many routes and my desire to have a decent rest (i.e., not just fly to London or Barcelona with five hours of sleep), I was ultimately rebooked to fly to Istanbul via Washington and Kuwait City, with the final segment on Turkish Airlines in economy class. But I had to buy a new ticket to Baku, which set me back another $225. I wont blame United for that, but this situation comes down to one glaring problem:

But the true culprit is the FA here. Even though the 9/11 attacks were over a decade ago, maybe I should have never used the word terrorist in my explanation. Maybe the FA was not used to a passenger defending his action. But whatever the case may be, nothing can justify the fact that this FA lied about me.

I have no regrets about this incident (other than not being able to take the flight). I did nothing wrong and the FA who lied about me should be held to account by United. Surely, a liar is more of a security threat than a passenger who wants to take a picture of his seat.

United has not been contacted yet, but I will send them a copy of this story. I welcome an investigation into this incident and encourage my seatmate or any of those seated around me on the flight to chime in should you come across this story.