A spat between a traveler and a flight attendant over where the traveler could sit on a United Airlines flight ended up with the passenger being dragged out of the airplane by police and spending three days in jail.
Jean Mamakos of Huntington, N.Y. was traveling with the Danbury Ski Club to Alaska for a ski trip on March 1 when the incident took place.
The flights from LaGuardia to Houston and from Houston to Seattle – the first two legs of the trip – were uneventful.
However, the third leg of the trip from Seattle to Anchorage was anything but.
That flight appeared to be partially empty so Mamakos says she moved from her assigned seat where there were two others sitting in the same row.
“I was extremely tired. The flight crew appeared irritable and angry. There was no “Welcome Aboard” by any member of the crew.”
“I saw many empty rows of seats and I went to sit in one of them. A stewardess…near me, stated, “Oh, no you don’t!!!” “I know what you’re thinking of doing!!!”.
Mamakos said the flight attendant told her there were still many more people expected on the flight and she could not move to another seat.
So Mamakos waited until the plane was fully loaded and then moved to an exit row seat that only had one other passenger in the row.
But because it was an exit row seat United charges extra to sit there.
“Another stewardess came up to me and stated, “You need to pay extra if you sit here. Give me your credit card.”
“I explained to her, ‘I am a registered nurse and people who sit in this row accept the responsibility of helping people off the plane. If there should be an “Emergency Evacuation” of the plane, I am willing to take the responsibility to do so.”
When told that it didn’t matter and that she had to pay $109 extra, Mamakos said she turned down the offer and went back to her assigned seat.
United disputes her account.
Spokesman Charley Hobart said Mamakos refused instructions from the flight crew to return to her assigned seat and by doing so prevented the crew from doing their job of making sure all the passengers were safe.
The flight attendant who initially told her not to move from her assigned seat then went into the cockpit, Mamakos said, apparently to talk to the captain.
Soon after the captain announced on the loudspeaker there was a person on the flight who does not wish to travel to Alaska, Mamakos says.
Two people then approached her – neither in uniform – and instructed her to get off the plane and another flight would be found for her.
Mamakos said she refused and told the two that she did not want to be separated from the rest of the Danbury Ski Club.
She was then warned that if she refused police would be called to forcibly remove her.
She continued her refusal saying she paid for her seat. By that time she was back in her assigned seat.
“I am not a passive individual,” she said in a recent telephone interview explaining she served as an Army nurse during the early 1970s and had reached the rank of captain.
A fellow passenger videotaped the encounter with police.
According to the video Mamakos provided CtWatchdog, two police officers asked her to get off the plane. She refused. She was warned twice that she would be arrested if she did not voluntarily get off the airplane.
She refused to stand. After her third refusal the police officers grabbed her hands and dragged her out of her seat and through the aisle, as she fought her removal by attempting to grab seats.
She was charged with trespassing and with resisting arrest. She spent three days in jail before she could post a bond for her release.
United cancelled the rest of her ticket to Anchorage as well as her return flight to New York.
The United spokesman said that Mamakos will not be reimbursed for the unused portion of her flight from Seattle to Anchorage, but that she can contact her travel agent to get a refund for the return flight from Anchorage.
Mamakos says she plans to sue United on the grounds of breach of contract.
While there is no question that Mamakos resisted arrest and refused to get off the airplane, there is a question on whether she disobeyed orders to return to her assigned seat.
The police report states that Mamakos was in seat 27D when they arrived. It was her assigned seat, according to documents Mamakos provided. Also, a fellow passenger, George Giering Sr., of Woodbridge wrote in a letter to United officials that Mamakos returned to her seat prior to the arrival of police.
“I ran my own business and realize things like this happen: but to drag a person, especially a female passenger (who was in her assigned seat at this time,), is beyond belief,” wrote Giering in a letter that Mamakos provided.
He said that he complained to the captain after the flight landed in Anchorage. He said the captain told him that the passenger was not in her assigned seat “which was not the case.”
“She definitely was which can be verified by numerous passengers in the immediate seating area. Evidently not one of the crew observed her moving back to her assigned seat,” Giering wrote.
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