Friday, February 22, 2002
Airline Was Justified in Removing Lawyer’s Wife From Plane After Tiff Over Seat Assignment—C.A.
By a MetNews Staff Writer
United Airlines acted properly in removing the wife of a Westside attorney from a Hawaii-bound flight after she caused a disturbance when she wasn’t given a first-class seat, the Court of Appeal for this district has ruled.
Div. Seven Wednesday affirmed a summary judgment granted by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Jean Matusinka, who rejected Adrienne Rubin’s contention that United subjected her to false imprisonment, false arrest, unlawful search and seizure, assault, battery, and emotional distress.
The suit arose from 1998 incident in which Rubin purchased a coach ticket for a trip to Hawaii, where she planned to meet up with her husband, trusts and estates lawyer Stanford Rubin. Rubin upgraded her ticket to first class, using her husband’s frequent flyer account.
According to evidence presented on the motion for summary judgment, Rubin checked in close to flight time. When a question arose as to whether Rubin’s account, or her husband’s, contained the necessary 3,000 frequent flyer mails, Rubin was sent to the gate.
Rubin told the gate agent she had a first class reservation, but was told there were no first class seats available and that she could either fly coach on that flight or fly first class on a later flight. But Rubin, Justice Earl Johnson Jr. explained in his opinion for the appellate panel, “was adamant about wanting a first class seat, and on this particular flight.”
What ensued on the plane was an argument between Rubin and the purser, after Rubin went into the first class cabin to see for herself whether the flight was full. Rubin later testified that the purser “went ballistic,” while the purser said “the hair came up on the back of my neck” because Rubin was violating regulations by going into the first class cabin after being told there was no seat there for her.
Rubin, according to the testimony, was told to take a specific coach seat and to store her bag, but refused to do either. At this point the captain was consulted, and agreed that Rubin should be deplaned.
She was eventually taken off by Los Angeles Airport Police officers, who interviewed her before releasing her without charges. She flew first class on the next flight to Hawaii, and later sued the city—which settled—and the airline.
Johnson agreed with the trial judge that United’s actions were reasonable as a matter of law.
The Federal Aviation Act, the justice said, allows an airline to “refuse to transport a passenger or property the carrier decides is, or might be, inimical to safety.” The statute, Johnson explained, “is not, as Ms. Rubin suggests, reserved strictly for would-be terrorists and hijackers” but has been interpreted to give carriers broad discretion.
That discretion is not unfettered, Johnson acknowledged. But in Rubin’s case, he said, the airline was entitled to “draw the line” once she refused specific instructions and created an “unruly and potentially dangerous situation,” particularly because takeoff was delayed and other passengers were visibly upset and calling on the crew to act.
The case is Rubin v. United Air Lines, Inc., 02 S.O.S. 951.
Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company