People Explains: When Is It Safe to Stand Up to a Flight Attendant?

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

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.


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?

“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.

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