Airport snafu: The guilty go free, the innocent suffer
When a tourist at the Pitkin County Airport vented his frustration against the United Express airline this week by hinting there might have been a bomb in his suitcase, he set off a chain of events that has left many people feeling vaguely outraged at everyone involved.
Guillaume Pollet, of New York City, and his girlfriend were bumped from a flight out of Aspen when high winds prompted the airline to lighten the plane’s load.
Pollet, after being told that there was no room on the next flight, asked to get his luggage back, since he was apparently going to have to spend the night in Aspen. When he was told that his luggage was on the plane and could not be removed, he lost his temper and said something to the effect of, “What if I were to say there was a bomb in my bag?”
Immediately, federal regulations went into effect. All passengers and all luggage were taken off the plane while officials checked for bombs.
Hours later, when no bomb was discovered, Pollet was handed his luggage, blacklisted from flying United Airlines ever again, and allowed to rent a car and drive off.
This is one of those cases where everyone involved was in the wrong – except for the dozens of innocent passengers who were seriously inconvenienced by one foolish man and one inconsiderate airline.
In examining the incident from the beginning, it seems not unreasonable for a passenger who is refused an airline seat he has reserved and paid for to demand his luggage back. It certainly wasn’t his fault the airline couldn’t take him to Denver and every effort should have been made to return his belongings to him.
This cavalier treatment, quite understandably, drove Pollet a little batty. As a result, he made an absolutely unjustifiable remark out of sheer frustration and a need to strike back.
It was a remark he should never have uttered, because airlines and governments have been forced to take such situations very seriously in light of the violence and mayhem that has taken place at airports and in the skies in recent times. It has been made perfectly clear, time and again, to all who fly, that any remark about a bomb on a plane – even in jest – will be taken with the utmost seriousness. Airlines have no choice. This is as it should be.
In light of these realities, it was inappropriate that Pollet received no real punishment for what was quite clearly a federal crime carrying stiff penalties.
His spontaneous act of petulance caused no end of misery for the other passengers on the plane. It disrupted activities at the airport and dragged local law enforcement officials away from other duties unnecessarily. And it indicated a blatant disregard for the welfare and peace of mind of others that is somewhat alarming, at the least, given recent history of air disasters and terrorist attacks.
To simply forbid him to fly on a certain airline is to diminish the importance of the regulations involved, and undermine the idea that actions such as Pollet’s are not to be tolerated in a civil society. In fact, the lack of punishment has likely reinforced what seems to be his arrogant conviction that his needs and wants come before those of anybody else around him, and he might well use this ploy again under similar circumstances.
To repeat, both parties were in the wrong in this case.
The airline needs to come up with a better way to deal with the hardships of its customers in such situations. To ignore this need can only further solidify the impression among the traveling public that United Express is run with no sense of compassion or responsibility.
And Pollet ought to have been dealt with in a way that showed him, firmly and without room for doubt, that he should find more appropriate ways of venting his frustrations and anger.
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