Ordered To Leave
As the plane started to taxi onto the Chicago Midway International Airport, Peggy Uhle made sure that her phone was turned off in preparation for take-off.
However, the plane would not take off and instead it would return to the gate where Uhle would be ordered to leave the plane by a flight attendant.
It’s quite normal to find many people being nervous before or during take-off. Many people suffer from being nervous flyers. Most people don’t find flying anything other than a relaxing experience.
This time, however, Peggy Uhle would not have the regular experience she was expecting to have.
Peggy Uhle knew the drill during take-off. She made sure that her seatbelt was secured, none of her possessions were obstructing the aisle, everything was properly stowed, and her cellphone was turned off.
This was the same drill as what every other passenger had to go through. Everyone was ready, the plane could take off.
If you wanted to travel from Chicago, Illinois to Cleaveland, Ohio by car, you would need to prepare yourself for a 350 mile, or almost 6 hours, drive between the two cities. Uhle’s flight cut that time to a little over an hour.
Unfortunately, the plane wouldn’t even reach the runway before turning back to the gate.
All the passengers on the plane were confused when it immediately returned to the gate where it had started from. Uhle saw a flight attendant approach her. “I figured I was on the wrong plane,” she said in an interview with BoardingArea.com in 2015.
That’s when the attendant ordered Uhle to disembark immediately.
The Midway Internation Airport opened in 1927.
For 28 years it served as the area’s primary airport before the O’Hare International Airport was built. It was at this airport where Uhle’s baffling encounter would take place.
In May of 2015, Uhle would not manage to reach her destination. She didn’t understand what was going on at first nor why she wasn’t being allowed to fly.
At first, Uhle assumed she had boarded the wrong plane by mistake. Soon, however, there would be a much bigger situation unfolding.
Uhle wasn’t the first person to be removed from a flight from Chicago, however. David Dao Duy is a Vietnamese-American doctor who had a similar experience in April of 2017. He was forcibly removed from a United Airlines flight.
The entire situation happened because four people were not willing to give up their seats for airline staff en route to Louisville.
Point Of View
When no one on the flight was willing to give up their seat, the airline chose seats at random. Dao was in one of the randomly selected seats but he refused to give up his seat. In an email sent to the New York Times by airline CEO, Oscar Munoz, the airline claimed that Dao was “disruptive” and “belligerent.”
However, the other passengers on the plane had a different story to tell.
Dao is a pulmonologist and needed to rush to Louisville for work the next morning. This is why he couldn’t afford to get off the plane under any circumstances.
Video footage taken by the passengers show that Dao had been “polite and matter-of-fact.”
Passengers on the plane claimed that the airline staff at the Chicago O’Hare International Airport hadn’t been friendly at all. The video footage that was recorded on the passengers’ cell phones shows Dao’s face being knocked into an armrest as aggressive security staff dragged him out of his seat and pulled off the plane by his arms.
Dao would later agree on a settlement for his mistreatment.
There are, however, cases where passengers were removed for unacceptable behavior.
As an example, in October 2018 on a Southwest Airlines flight from Chicago to Houston, a female passenger refused to fold away her tray table and became aggressive when flight attendants asked her to comply.
According to witnesses, the woman became tetchy and aggressive when the airline staff asked her to fold away her table.
She also became verbally abusive when she refused to do as the staff had kindly asked her to do.
Due to this woman’s outburst and behavior, the pilot turned the plane around and taxied back to the departure gate. To make things worse, when she was being removed from the plane, cell phone video showed her spewing a racially abusive tirade at the staff.
Even though they were delayed by more than an hour, the passengers didn’t mind and actively cheered when the woman was removed.
A statement released by Southwest Airlines and published by the Daily Mail in October 2018 claimed that the passenger had ignored airline staff when instructed to follow safety procedures.
It said, “The customer became unruly and verbally abusive toward our flight attendants, and the decision was made to return to the gate to deplane the customer, where she was met by local law enforcement officers.”
However, another passenger was removed from a Southwest Airlines aircraft for far less than that. A flight was due to depart from Sacramento, California heading for Austin, Texas, via Los Angeles in May 2019.
But, according to KTXL, problems arose when refueling and maintenance issues delayed its scheduled flight by several hours.
Taking Care Of Them
Concerned with keeping their customers hydrated, airline staff started to hand out water to those waiting patiently on board the flight. Perhaps in an effort to make light of the situation, a passenger reportedly suggested that the staff serve vodka instead of water.
But the flight attendant didn’t find his quip funny.
Peter Uzelac, who witnessed the incident, told KTXL in May 2019, “He said something [like], ‘They should be passing out vodka because we’ve been waiting so long.’ [The flight attendant] came by and was like, ‘I don’t think that and I didn’t like your joke.’”
The situation then escalated when Uzelac’s wife intervened.
As Uzelac described, “Then my wife tried to butt in there and say, ‘Look, we’ve been on this plane for hours.’ And [the attendant] says, ‘Well, so have I, so get used to it.’ Then all of a sudden I see her on the telephone up in front.”
The plane then returned to the gate and the man was removed by Sacramento County sheriff officers.
Although Southwest Airlines didn’t apologize for the incident, they did issue a statement.
As reported by MSN, it said, “We regret any less-than-positive experience a customer has onboard our aircraft. We welcome over 100 million customers each year and we aim to maintain the comfort of all while delivering Southwest hospitality.”
Just a few weeks before Peggy Uhle’s experience with Southwest Airlines, meanwhile, another passenger claimed they’d had a particularly unpleasant experience.
The customer alleged that the company had prevented her from contacting her husband, after she’d received a disturbing message from him.
Passenger Karen Momsen-Evers from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, received a message from her husband claiming that he intended to take his own life. She replied back to him before the flight from New Orleans, Louisiana, to Milwaukee departed.
Then the distraught wife made a further request to airline staff to make an emergency phone call.
However, the crew instructed Momsen-Evers to set her phone to flight mode. According to the Daily Mail, once the plane had taken to the air, she asked another crew member for an opportunity to make an urgent call to her husband.
And their response allegedly was that there wasn’t anything they could do for her.
Momsen-Evers then continued her journey home; but when she got there she was greeted by police officers who broke the news that her husband had committed suicide.
Southwest Airlines insisted it’s routine for aircrew to inform pilots of emergency situations in which passengers or the aircraft are at risk. However, that didn’t happen this time.
Why The Change?
So what happened with Peggy Uhle in 2015 that pilots felt it necessary to turn the plane back to the departure gate? Had she become unruly, like the woman on the flight from Chicago to Houston? Or had she offended airline staff like the man on a delayed flight from Sacramento to Houston?
Well, as it turns out, she did neither of these things.
Uhle, as we explored earlier, hadn’t requested to make a call herself when she received bad news, unlike Momsen-Evers weeks earlier. Instead, there was an emergency that the Southwest Airlines passenger wasn’t aware of at home.
And as we discussed, the diligent passenger had prepared for the flight’s departure by turning her phone off.
So, as Uhle sat in her seat waiting to take off, a flight attendant came over with some instructions for her.
But the staff member wasn’t directing her to the departure gate; rather, because Uhle’s phone had been turned off, she was unaware that her husband had been desperately trying to contact her.
Unable to reach Uhle directly, then, her husband was forced to find another way to get in contact with her. A desperate situation had unfolded at home that he needed to make his wife aware of.
As a result, he contacted Southwest Airlines directly in the hope that they could pass a message on.
Realizing the urgency of the situation, airline staff alerted the pilot of the circumstances. The captain then made provisions for Uhle to return to the departure gate. Already taxiing toward the runway, he turned the plane around and headed back to its starting point.
And when it got there, gate staff instructed Uhle to call home.
When Uhle contacted her husband, he told her some devastating news. Their son had suffered a head injury and was in a coma in Denver.
It’s distressing news for any parent; but Uhle was thousands of miles away in Chicago and heading for Columbus. So how would she get to her boy?
With Uhle frantic about her son’s life-threatening condition, the stricken mom had the added stress of figuring out how to get back to Denver and how she would pay for it all.
Southwestern Airlines, however, were aware of the situation, and they were one step ahead of her.
Already Making Plans
“The gate attendant already knew the situation and had booked me on a direct flight to Denver that was leaving in the next two hours,” Uhle told BoardingArea.com. But Southwestern Airlines’ efforts and hospitality didn’t end there.
It seems that the staff had thought of everything so that the distraught mom didn’t have to.
Uhle continued, “[Southwest Airlines] offered a private waiting area, rerouted my luggage, allowed me to board first, and [even] packed a lunch for when I got off the plane in Denver.”
The shattered mom, then, didn’t have to do anything, because airline staff had kindly taken care of all her needs.
Furthermore, Southwest Airlines staff didn’t merely send Uhle on her way and forget about her. As she explained to the Daily Mail, “My luggage was delivered to where I was staying, and I even received a call from Southwest asking how my son was doing.”
So how much did the extra service cost Uhle?
No doubt the best part of Uhle’s predicament was that she got to be with her son with little delay.
However, that it came at no further cost to the heartbroken mom must have been an added relief; Southwest Airlines provided Uhle’s unexpected travel requirements completely free of charge.
So it seems that Southwest Airlines’ care commitment extends beyond its employees.
As the company’s website states, “The mission of Southwest Airlines is dedication to the highest quality of customer service delivered with a sense of warmth, friendliness, individual pride, and company spirit.”
A further statement of intent on Southwest Airlines’ website underlines their level of loyalty.
It reads, “We don’t take our commitments lightly. We are dedicated to doing the right thing, we take great strides to ensure [passengers’] safety, and fostering trusting relationships between our employees, our customer[s], our suppliers, and our planet.”
Furthermore, in a statement made to MailOnline Travel in May 2015, a spokesperson addressed the Uhle incident.
They said, “This example is a direct reflection of the Southwest Airlines culture. Employees are empowered at Southwest to go above and beyond the call of duty…”
The Southwest Airlines statement continued, saying that staff have the freedom to, “follow their hearts to make decisions that positively impact our customers. We’re certainly proud of, but not surprised by, any of the hard work that went into doing the right thing for Ms. Uhle and her family.”
The staff’s hospitality, then, is something their employers expect.
Nevertheless, the airline’s attentiveness was a move hugely appreciated by Uhle. As she described to BoardingArea.com, “The care that I was shown is second to none. We have always liked Southwest Airlines and now I can’t say enough good things about them.”
But what of Uhle’s son? Well, it turns out that despite suffering head trauma, he was soon on the mend, according to Metaspoon