An airline expert breaks down what to do during an altercation on a plane

By Mackenzie Schmidt
March 15, 2018 06:15 PM

Flight attendants are there to keep passengers safe in the skies, but is there ever a time it’s okay to disobey them?

On a recent United airlines flight, a passenger was instructed by a flight attendant to put a carry-on pet bag holding their 10-month old French bulldog in the overhead storage bin instead of under the seat in front of them. The passenger obeyed the instruction and the dog suffocated. A criminal investigation has since been opened about the incident.

This is the latest controversy to arise over a flight attendant’s onboard behavior, and many others — including the dragging of Dr. David Dao off a United flight by airport police following a disagreement in 2017 — have escalated to verbal and even physical altercations.

While in most recent instances, the public has sided with the affronted passenger and the offending airline has issued an apology, that’s not always the case.

Credit: Halfdark/Getty

According to Tracy Stewart, an air travel expert and editor at Airfare Watchdog, crossing a flight attendant can still have serious repercussions, and not just for your arrival time.We trust flight attendants with our lives and naturally want to assume they know what’s best. Not only that, but disobeying instructions from the crew is seen as interference in crew member duties under FAA regulation,” he warns. “It’s a terrible spot for the passenger to be in.”So what is a passenger who feels they’re being wronged to do?

“One thing you can do is try to involve other flight attendants or, better still, ask to speak directly with the captain,” Stewart tells PEOPLE. “If that doesn’t work, the nuclear option is to disembark and ask to be put on another flight.Arguments over seating arrangements, especially for families with small children are some of the most common disagreements, according to Stewart. “It never ends well for the family,” he says, “People are kicked off for the slightest perceived infraction and it’s impossible not to feel completely powerless in these situations.”The line he warns you should never breach on board is deliberately subverting a crew member’s instructions, even if you think they’re in the wrong.RELATED: WATCH: Runaway Suitcase Hilariously Makes A Break For It at Atlanta Airport

“What the crew says onboard is law, at least within the United States,” he explains. “If your flight attendant orders you to do something that doesn’t sit well with you, however unreasonable, it’s best to proceed with caution because the laws–at least current laws–aren’t in favor of the passenger.