Southwest Airlines And The Suicide Threat

Not exactly "friendly skies"

Not exactly “friendly skies”

We tend to assume someone was at fault when a terrible event results from the execution of a standard policy that was not appropriate to the crisis at hand. Who’s to blame in this nightmarish scenario?

Karen Momsen-Evers was on a Southwest Airlines plane about to take off from New Orleans to Milwaukee, where she lived. Then her husband Andy sent her a text asking her for forgiveness for his imminent suicide. “I go to sleep at night thinking what could I have done, what should I have done,” Evers said. She texted back “No,” but the text arrived as flight attendants were doing their final cabin checks. She wanted to call him. The flight attendant ordered her to turn her phone off, and when she insisted, was told that the FAA regulations prohibited any further use of her cellphone. “The steward slapped the phone down and said you need to go on airplane mode now,” Momsen-Evers told reporters.

Once the flight reached cruising altitude, the desperate woman explained the situation to another attendant. She begged her to have someone make an emergency phone call, but the attendant insisted there was nothing she could do.

So Karen Momsen-Evers sat in her seat, looking at the text and sobbing, all the way to Milwaukee. When she arrived home she was met by police officers, who told her Andy had killed himself.

Southwest Airlines offered a statement once the story was publicized:

“Our hearts go out to the Evers family during this difficult time.Flight attendants are trained to notify the Captain if there is an emergency that poses a hazard to the aircraft or to the passengers on-board. In this situation, the pilots were not notified.”

So who was at fault? Nobody, really. Or everybody:

1. The FAA. The FAA’s no cell phone rule has been generally debunked as idiotic. Since the chances of a phone call crashing the plane are nil, a provision that allows calls in special circumstances is a no-brainer, but agency bureaucrats don’t like to use their brains at all.

2. The first flight attendant. The Golden Rule needs to be added to the Southwest training manual. Seriously, Southwest? Your attendants are trained to act like zombies even when a distraught passenger says that her husband just texted a pre-suicide note? They really fear FAA sanctions if they save someone’s life by bending a rule? This airline needs to raise the IQ requirements for its employees.

3. The second flight attendant. What was she, a moonlighting lawyer? Yes, technically this was not an emergency that endangered a passenger or the plane. It was an emergency that endangered a human being on the ground. A competent, compassionate human being in a Southwest uniform would have talked to the captain. Hell, I once asked an attendant to get an update on a Red Sox play-off game, and the captain announced the score to the plane.

4. The husband. A texted “I’m going to kill myself and there’s not a thing you can do about it” note to his wife? Nice. Suicide notes should be added to the “do not text” etiquette list along with notices of divorce filings, firings and lay-offs, and broken engagements.

5. The wife. This is pure hindsight bias, I know. Karen may have thought she was dealing with people with actual brains, souls and consciences because she doesn’t fly as often as I do. But she had it within her power to force Southwest to let her off the plane if she threw a loud, noisy fit. If she was arrested later and charged (she wouldn’t be—even the notoriously arbitrary Southwest wouldn’t dare), so what? I know the fit route is what I would have taken, because I’ve used similar tactics before, and believe me, they work.

Or nobody. This was a collective effort, with everyone dealing, badly, with a stressful crisis nobody could anticipate.

Pointer: Consumerist
Facts: Scripps Media

23 thoughts on “Southwest Airlines And The Suicide Threat

  1. Wow. I’m with everybody’s at fault. Any one of those people could have done something different. And should have.

    Though it raises an interesting question: what if she had been able to make a call? There’s a good chance he was just throwing down a final guilt-gauntlet and a phone call wouldn’t have dissuaded him at all.

    To me that suggests that what’s at stake here was not a life to be saved (his), but rather a life rescued (hers) – rescued from a life-time of looking back over her shoulder wondering what might have been done differently.

    By some calculus, that would have been worth more than her poor husband’s sorry life.

    • Funny; I was just about to add to my comment with something very close; that giving her that phone call might have at least given her the solace of knowing she did everything she could have done under the circumstances. Your mind works much quicker than mine, though.

      • More likely I am just a faster typist. But, no matter, I’ll take the compliment! And always nice to see the old adage proven, “great minds think alike.”

    • I have a different perspective given that I AM THE GRIEVING WIDOW and my story has not been heard. Mrs. ? Evers was estranged from her husband, had a boyfriend ( Dr. Chuck), and was due to be divorced from Andrew on 04/26/15. Andrew and I had been in a relationshipnfor 13 plus years and he FINALLY had the guts to leave his miserable marriage only to find out that she had bankrupt him… He had been living with me for the past 9 months, we planned to get married in October, 2015. I have HAD IT with Mrs. Momsen, FAKE…LIAR…NO SOCIAL SKILLS… ( who has a visitation from 10a-6p unless you’re a Kennedy????) She has only told her skewed part of the story. Want to know the TRUTH? I had to identify the body, head blown off, non recognizable. contact me for more info. All I know is that I cry my eyes out every night and I pray every night for my beloved Andrew, (Thurston, Scarecrow). and by the way, Me ( being the love of his life, the one he left “her” for), Stop desecrating his grave by taking things and not replacing, If ANYONE wants to know the truth you can contact me below. Believe me, this is not a “pat” story. I sssooo miss and love my Andrew…

  2. In the absence of background info on their relationship, therefore taking the scenario at face value, I’m inclined to give the wife a pass. Were I the wife receiving the text, I imagine that I would be in full blown panic mode and wouldn’t have the mental wherewithal to think of using a ploy to get off the plane. I imagine that I would have acted exactly as she did. That said, my full blown panic mode, especially in the face of the idiotic attendants, would probably have been the equivalent of having a loud, noisy fit, and would have gotten me off of the plane. Anyway, I say that everyone listed except the wife is at fault.

  3. Obviously everyone, as you stated, but as far as primary culpability, I’m going with the primary actors. Others higher up the chain might have chosen to exercise discretion, given the opportunity.It goes beyond zombie, and right into malicious callousness to ignore a distraught woman under these circumstances. Maybe even a little power-madness at the hands of a little, tiny, powerless brain could have been in play here, like the bully cop, or the shoe-cobbler’s apprentice turned Nazi functionary. “I am the God of this aircraft; I have spoken”. I think I might be even more disgusted with the wife, and all meek lambs like her. I would have gotten that phone call or gotten off the plane in short order. The husband? I can cut him a little slack. People who are in so much pain that they’re ready to die are apt to do things like lash out. Being truly considerate would have been for him to volunteer to go lash out at ISIS with what remained of his life, though.

  4. These incidents lead us to a greater distrust of authority and the law. It makes me think Dan Muessig’s line “…a bunch of people with more money than you telling you what you can and can’t do with their stupid ‘laws’. Laws are arbitrary!” The more arbitrary rules and laws we have, the less people will respect and follow the law.

    This cellphone rule has no basis in fact, but on well-debunked fiction. You might as well have a rule that says no diet soft drinks on the plane because the artificial sweetener can become volatilized and short out the ventilation system. When you treat fiction as fact, people lose respect for you. The Illinois Supreme Court ruled that you can infringe on people’s rights if the result is that people feel safer. They admitted that the law would not make people safer, but it gave some people the perception that things were safer. They treated fiction as equal to fact. Why should I have any respect for those justices or the justice system they preside over? I know this is an arbitrary ruling. I know if this suburb had banned black families from living there to keep down the crime rate, that same court would have destroyed that ordinance, not upheld it. When laws are arbitrary, why should I follow them? Not only that, but if laws don’t apply to some people, then those laws must not really be necessary, right? When drunk Secret Service agents can crash a car through a White House barricade and into a crime scene and be allowed to drive a government vehicle home without a sobriety check, I know I am living under an arbitrary government, not a government of laws.

    • Winston Churchill said something to the effect of “when you become a nation of 10,000 laws, people will lose all respect for the law”. Ha! 10,000? I’ll bet we churn out more in a year! I’m with you on this. I wish we were truly a nation of the rule of law, but I think we’re seeing what happens when you give up personal agency, autonomy, sovereignty, and initiative in exchange for a government that attends to your every whim.

  5. In all probability nothing would have changed if she had been able to call him personally. He may not even have answered the phone. The only call that may have made a difference would have been a 911 call to the same police who obviously were notified by somebody, albeit too late, that there was a crisis. I will fault the airlines for not having plans in place for situations such as this and the flight attendants for not even attempting to handle the situation. Although maybe we should cut them some slack if they’ve already experienced the “fit route” and looked at this as a “crying wolf” situation.

    • That’s the problem, of course. Once an exception is made, it will be exploited. Can you limit “life and death” to not include via slippery slope “million dollar business deals”; “I have to save our marriage!”, “My kid is sick” and “David Ortiz is up with two outs and the bases loaded!”???

    • I can’t imagine that there are too many people willing to humiliate themselves for anything less than a true emergency. Then again, Maybe I haven’t seen enough lunatics.

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