I did not feel threatened by this passenger
Stabroek News
March 13, 2002

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Dear Editor,

My journey on flight 431 from Miami to Georgetown via Barbados was interesting to say the least. As a matter of fact, I would be bold enough to say it was a gross injustice to see a fellow passenger assaulted, handcuffed, and dragged off the aircraft with his young child (not more than 3 years old) witnessing this inhumane behaviour by the local authorities.

The evening unfolded as follows: passengers bound for Georgetown were not allowed to disembark in Barbados, so I sat in my seat 15A awaiting the intransit passengers to board. I distinctly heard from the back of the plane a passenger verbalizing how upset he was because he was told to board the plane from the rear and walk all the way up to the front of the aircraft, with his child. He made numerous comments but he was primarily upset at the ground staff person who was delegating which passengers should enter from the rear or the front. He continued to let the entire plane know how upset he was, and used a few colourful adjectives to describe his frustration because he was travelling with a child. Meanwhile, in approximately the center of the aircraft, I heard a flight attendant advising two ground staff employees, who happened to be onboard, that this passenger cannot travel in this manner and if he continues he will be taken off the plane. The passenger continued to voice his opinion loudly and I observed the flight attendant who previously made the comment to ground staff, run towards the cockpit. He was never seen again until after the event unfolded.

This passenger continued to complain as he walked by my row and made his way to row 12C. I remember smiling to myself and saying welcome to the Caribbean, where people have no problem saying how they feel. I clearly heard passenger 12C saying that only in the Caribbean are people treated anyhow. I observed this passenger as he loaded his luggage in the overhead bin, he sat down, assisted his son and I even heard him helping another passenger out, who was having problems with his seatbelt.

Passenger 12C had stopped his loud comments and was sitting quietly awaiting the departure of this flight. I observed a gentleman approaching the passenger but I was unable to hear what he was asking this passenger. I was only able to hear the passenger's response, which caused him to restate what he was saying loudly in the aisle. Passenger 12C repeated his issue, where he had to walk with his child from the rear of the aircraft to the front and this was not fair. In addition, passenger 12C said that wherever you travel, once you travel with a child certain courtesies are extended and boarding from the front of the aircraft is one example. I agree with this because I always witness such courtesies by other airlines where families with small children and those that need extra assistance board first, through the front of the aircraft.

This gentleman advised passenger 12C that BWIA's policy allows only first class passengers to board from the front of the plane and all other passengers board from the rear. Also, this officer advised 12C that he needed to disembark from the plane. Immediately after making that statement another passenger seated in row 13A advised this gentleman that he and another passenger were allowed to board from the front even though they were not first class passengers. In addition, many passengers voiced their opinion that this simple incident was not a major issue. Two passengers came from the rear of the aircraft and explained to this staff member that passenger 12C has been calm since sitting down and he was not a threat. I did not feel threatened by this passenger because he never stated he was going to harm anyone. Furthermore, he never said or did anything that would cause anyone to feel unsafe to travel with him. I recall this staff member saying that the captain would decide whether passenger 12C would travel to Guyana. This was ludicrous, as the captain never investigated the incident, he never even came to see what was happening in order to make a fair decision. In fact the flight attendants were not around, they were at the extreme ends of the plane unconcerned as to what was happening. Two passengers from the rear were the ones that intervened on 12C's behalf to attempt to resolve the matter.

This staff left and about 5 or 6 uniformed officers appeared and told passenger 12C that he needed to disembark. Passenger 12C refused, a few seconds later there was an announcement for all passengers to disembark. I felt this was ridiculous and I knew this was done to make passenger 12C leave the plane. The first class passengers immediately got off the plane. However, I only saw one passenger leaving the main cabin. The majority of passengers stayed on the plane, including myself. Passenger 12C called for all Caribbean people to unite.

A female officer approached passenger 12C and she asked for his name, he advised her to check the manifest. More officers, about 5 or 6, approached passenger 12C, he was instructed to leave the aircraft, because the captain had decided that passenger 12C should not remain on the flight.

This was a flawed decision, the captain is in command of the flight and at critical times he needs to make judgment calls based on the facts and in the best interest of the passengers. The captain never spoke with any of the passengers in the main cabin to see if we felt threatened or to find out why the passenger at 12C was upset. He stayed in the cockpit for the duration of the incident and made his decision based on inconclusive facts and contradictory policies.

The officers told passenger 12C he needed to leave and when he did not move they started hitting him in front of his child and all passengers. Passenger 12C said you will have to shoot me because I am not moving. It was a hard struggle. One officer told the passengers seated in row 12 that they need to move because it would be an obstruction of justice if they stayed in that row. As this was happening, passengers continued voicing their views about how unfair and ridiculous this was. Passenger 12C was overpowered by these officers, hit and handcuffed. He was escorted off, his child following crying and the passengers were shouting at the officers. The offices did not even want to get 12C's luggage from the overhead bin, which was unreasonable.

I wrote this letter immediately after the incident happened. I was disgusted at the events that played out and humiliated at the way BWIA treated the situation. From my perspective, this situation could have been avoided if the crew had implemented a few basic principles before calling the officers. First, allow passenger 12C to calm down; he was calm by the time the first person approached him. Second, approach the passenger and ask him about his concerns, third, apologise for the inconvenience he endured boarding from the back, this simple act probably would have stopped the incident from escalating.

The reason for this letter is to urge my fellow passengers on flight 431 March 9th, 2002 to voice their frustrations, and to make the public aware of this injustice to passenger. Captain Gonzalez only spoke to the passengers when the aircraft was on the runaway about to leave for Georgetown, he said "I apologize for the incident, it was self explanatory".

BWIA should revisit their policies as it relates to courtesies to their passengers especially those travelling with small children. Too often simple and unimportant issues are not handled in the best and most constructive manner.

Yours faithfully,

Yuolanda Barker

Editor's note

We are trying to get a response from BWIA