On Unions, Abusive Flight Attendants, Golf Balls In My Hash Browns, And Res Ipsa Loquitur

By now you have heard the latest example of Outrage in the Air, the American Airlines flight attendant running amuck. A video of  part of the incident was posted by a passenger, Surain Adyanthaya, who uploaded it to Facebook. Adyanthaya wrote about what she witnessed on Flight 591  from San Francisco International Airport to Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, saying,

“OMG! AA Flight attendant violently took a stroller from a lady with her baby on my flight, hitting her and just missing the baby. Then he tried to fight a passenger who stood up for her.”

The basic facts of the episode have been confirmed by multiple passengers, and the altercation has been reported across the news media. Then there is the video. It  does not show the stroller incident that Adyanthaya described, but it does show a female passenger standing at the front of the plane, sobbing uncontrollably as she holds her baby, as she says, “You can’t use violence with a baby.Just give me back my stroller, please.”

A male passenger seated near the front of the plane suddenly comes to the woman’s aid, saying,  “No, I’m not going to sit here and watch this stuff.” He then stands up and demands to know the male flight attendant’s name. The flight attendant who grabbed the stroller appears, prompting the male passenger to warn him.

“Hey, bud, you do that to me, and I’ll knock you flat,” he says. “Hey, you stay out of this!” the flight attendant shouts back at him, pointing his finger at the passenger. He then steps forward, challenging the passenger. “Hit me,” the flight attendant says, motioning with his hands. “Come on, hit me! You don’t know what the story is!”

“I don’t care what the story is,” the defiant male passenger replies. “You almost hurt a baby.”

Boy, from now on, I’m flying United.

American Airlines said in a statement,

“The actions of our team member captured here do not appear to reflect patience or empathy, two values necessary for customer care. [Gee, ya think???)] In short, we are disappointed by these actions. The American team member has been removed from duty while we immediately investigate this incident.”

The flight attendant’s union, however, is defending its member, issuing a statement that urged restraint before making judgments about the flight attendant while saying in part:

“There are really two stories here related to this incident aboard a San Francisco to Dallas flight. One, we don’t know all of the facts related to a passenger who became distraught while boarding a plane and therefore neither the company nor the public should rush to judgment. Second, it appears another passenger may have threatened a Flight Attendant with violence, which is a violation of federal law and no small matter. Air rage has become a serious issue on our flights. We must obtain the full facts surrounding these incidents. Our passengers and the Flight Attendants deserve nothing less.”

Much like lawyers, employee unions are partisan by definition, and exist to take the sides of their members, even when the members engage in misconduct and may be in the wrong. When they have to side with members who embarrass their professions or trades, like the American flight attendant, unions cement their poor public image and weaken all employee advocacy groups. However, unions also have an obligation to avoid looking ridiculous.All of the good and important work of unions is undermined when they appear to tolerate outrageous member conduct.

Sure, by all means get the facts, but seriously, how much more information does one need to conclude that this was not a shining hour in the annals of flight attendant competence? When a baby is almost injured, a passenger feels compelled to confront what he sees as passenger abuse, and an attendant challenges a passenger to a fight, this is res ipsa loquitur, the Latin phrase meaning “the thing speaks for itself.” In law, res ipsa loquitur is used to describe allegations and charges that require no more evidence than the bare fact that they occurred. Again I am reminded of the absurd TV reporter who, after watching the second plane slam into the Twin Towers on 9/11, cautioned viewers not to leap to the conclusion that it was terrorism.

As it happens, today brought another example of res ipsa loquitur, reminding me of my favorite old court opinion illustrating the principle from Professor Dave McCarthy’s first year Torts class.

The law suit against R.J. Reynolds had involved a horrified customer who had chomped down on a rotted, severed human toe while trying to enjoy a plug of chewing tobacco. He initially lost his case based on the theory of “let the buyer beware,” but won on appeal. On the subject of whether the plaintiff had to prove negligence, the dryly humorous appellate judge wrote (in 1918) that he could

“imagine no reason why, with ordinary care human toes could not be left out of chewing tobacco, and if toes are found in chewing tobacco, it seems to us that somebody has been very careless.”


And so it is with today’s res ipsa loquitur classic: Frozen hash browns sold in nine states by Harris Teeter (including the two where we shop  here in Alexandria, Virginia) and Roundy’s were found to include pieces of golf balls as a very special ingredient.  McCain Foods USA’s amusing recall notice says in part,

“McCain Foods USA, Inc. announced today it is voluntarily recalling retail, frozen hash brown products that may be contaminated with extraneous golf ball materials, that despite our stringent supply standards may have been inadvertently harvested with potatoes used to make this product. Consumption of these products may pose a choking hazard or other physical injury to the mouth.”

You know what? I’d say that those “stringent supply standards” aren’t nearly stringent enough if golf balls end up in my hash browns. If golf balls are found in my hash browns, somebody has been very careless.


14 thoughts on “On Unions, Abusive Flight Attendants, Golf Balls In My Hash Browns, And Res Ipsa Loquitur

  1. Hmm, in the video the flight attendent appeared to take picture of the big guy after he went back to his seat therefore escalating the situation. Too bad that somebody else had a cell phone and caught it on video, My guess is that the A.A. CEO will come up with pseudo apology for the incident in the day or two.

  2. Am I missing something here. My wife and I travelled the world with young kids and a stroller for the youngest one. No airline I know of in the western world lets you take a stroller on board, to much of a risk in evacuations I assume. That’s fair enough. We can only guess what this lady did to get that far on the plain with a stroller. You are always stopped getting on the plane ,they tag it ,it goes in the hold and you get it given back at the other end. What ever the lady did to get past ground staff seems to have upset them and her screening and crying like a child to get them to break the safety rules does not seem to have worked.
    Just because she had a child and was resisting and crying I don’t believe should influence what she gets away with when it comes to safety.
    I would like to cry to be able to take big carry on bags.
    If the flight attendant grabbed at the stroller and the women resisted I think that might be the women’s problem after that.

    • Break-down in the boarding process, poor training and handling by the attendant. Obviously the stroller should have never gotten that far. Nonetheless, staff had to learn how to handle such situations without threatening infants or engaging in violence.

      • It’s one of those lessons that you hopefully learn early in life, but this fellow seems to have missed or forgotten: You can be completely right on the facts, but still be wrong based on how you approach them.

        I have between very little and no doubt that the mother in this case was wrong, whether she didn’t know what the rules were, or thought that they didn’t, or shouldn’t, apply to her, there is no situation where that stroller was staying on the aircraft, and it was the flight attendant’s job to stow it. There might even be a situation in where the flight attendant might not have been completely unjustified in wrestling the stroller azway from her… although I can’t think of it, I didn’t see the initial hooplah. But his reaction to the White Knight was stupid, and makes me think his initial reaction wasn’t much better.

        Interesting thought though… Had he, instead of trying to picka fight with the White Knight, called for security to “re-accomodate” him for uttering threats, which by looking at the video evidense he probably had the right to do, would that have been a better result?

        • I spent 4 years fighting public sector unions, who only wouldn’t represent their members in incontrovertible cases like positive drug tests or criminal convictions, lest they be sued themselves for failing in their duty of fair representation of their members.

          As a labor attorney, I think the facts on this are incomplete. I’d really like to see any security camera footage of the actual seizure of the stroller. It’s a given that strollers aren’t allowed on flights, but wrestling one away from a mom in such a way as to almost hit a child is way out of line unless she attacks you. I don’t doubt mom was trying to get around the rules, although in her case the resistance consisted of crying uncontrollably and making a scene.

          The guy who decided to intervene, who HT has perhaps justifiably referred to as a white knight should not have inserted himself into a situation that was the airline’s or the FAA’s to resolve, not his. If there was an actual fight or obvious mistreatment and he intervened that would be one thing. In this case he first demanded the gate attendant’s name, to which the proper response might well be “to do what with that information, sir?” The discipline of airline employees is not something for passengers to mete out. If the guy witnessed mistreatment and wanted to later testify at a hearing, ok, but why does he need the attendant’s name when the authorities clearly already have it? Telling the attendant he was going to knock him flat, especially THAT attendant, was just pouring gas on the fire. Predictably, that attendant’s response, telling the guy to go ahead and hit him, was also way out of line. If his handling of the stroller and the woman wasn’t a termination offense, that definitely was. He probably would have been within his rights to call the air marshals or airport police and have them dump that guy on the tarmac as a threat, since they did just that to another woman on another flight who was harassing a Trump-supporting fellow passenger without any violence, but this guy was thinking with his crotch and had to show who was bigger.

          The really pathetic individual in all of this was the pilot, who you can see standing behind this altercation before he goes behind the cockpit door. It was his plane and he was responsible for it, he should have stepped in, ordered the problem gate agent off his plane, then called in the airport police to restore order.

  3. No Harris Teeter around here so I guess I wouldn’t have access to the hash browns with added fiber content anyway. I wonder though why McCain Foods needs to specify that golf ball material in tater tots is “extraneous.” Are there other things in there, toes perhaps, that they don’t consider to be extraneous?

  4. I will say it again…Unions have long since outlived their purpose and usefulness. Some areas should, indeed, have never been allowed to unionize, such as teachers, first responders, etc. The only purpose of a union today is to protect incompetent people’s jobs.

    • “I am convinced that we cannot possibly dispense with the trades unions. On the contrary, they are among the most important institutions in the economic life of the nation.”
      Adolf Hitler

    • And enrich the union reps. I worked extensively with one of the big teamster unions, and came away with little to no respect for the role it plays (full disclosure: I was in management and hence adversarial towards them). Especially when the union vote was near, you could count on them initiating very expensive grievance proceedings for every single discipline act , including ones that couldn’t be more black and white. At one point, they offered to stop filing so many grievances if we’d rehire a bunch of recent terminations, and you know they had to be very incompetent to get fired in the first place. Those rehires haunted me for years.

      Boy did it make those jobs popular though. We’d get 200+ applications for every opening we had. Once someone was hired, it was nigh impossible to get rid of them.

      • My point exactly. One of the (many) things I love about Texas is that it is a right-to-work state. The Teachers Unions, dedicated to keeping incompetent teachers in their jobs, holds little sway here. Unfortunately, incompetent management makes up for what the teachers union doesn’t do.

  5. I can make a shot at explaining the initial part of the process on the golf balls. We have a heated dispute in the “neighborhood” over errant golf balls. I use quotes because I live in quite a rural area and my “neighborhood” involves many square miles.

    One of the residents like to practice golf drives on his property. Most of the time, the balls stay on his property. Some do go astray onto the neighbor’s land, a neighbor who raises vegetable crops. Those golf balls are pissing off the farmer’s customer, who doesn’t want to buy vegetables with golf balls in them. I think they’re pretty close to litigating the issue.

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