Delta Airlines: Attorney Arrested After Boarding Quarrel – Lawsuit Dismissed!

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A Pennsylvania Attorney who had a run in with Delta Airlines ground staff in Philadelphia after he boarded an aircraft against the staffs order ended up being arrested and subsequently suing Delta.

Delta Arrest Lawsuit

A federal judge found that the complaints the attorney brought pro se in court are without merit and not substantiated.

The situation reads rather interesting because based on the legal brief I will upload below the scene got out of hand quickly once the passenger reached the gate for his Delta flight from PHL to San Diego.

Attorney Robert Land, acting pro se, alleges Delta Air Lines falsely imprisoned and intentionally or negligently inflicted emotional distress upon him because it did not allow him to run onto a plane after he ran late for his flight and then refused to leave the plane unless the police removed him. He claims Delta acted improperly after he ducked the Delta agent to walk onto the plane and then, after he wouldn’t leave, called the police who then arrested him.

You can access the court docket (Judges Opinion) related to the lawsuit via Justitia here.

Download (PDF, 311KB)

Upon arrival at the gate (already past boarding cut off) the passenger saw only an open door with no gate agent. He proceeded through the door towards the aircraft where he met the gate agent in the jetway who informed him the flight was closed.

Pennsylvania attorney Robert Land (“Land”) bought a ticket to fly on Delta Air Lines (“Delta”) leaving Philadelphia and arriving in San Diego, California, with a layover in Atlanta, Georgia. (ECF Doc. No 18, 111). On April 19, 2013, Delta’s flight from Philadelphia arrived late in Atlanta. When Land arrived at his gate for the San Diego flight, Delta left the door to the jet-way open without a gate agent.  Land entered the jet-way without authority.

When he was approximately thirty feet down the jet-way, a Delta employee stopped Land and told him it had closed the flight. Land showed his boarding pass and his Delta Skymiles American Express credit card. Delta instructed Land to get off the jet-way.  Land responded he could board because passengers were still in line. Delta refused and Land alleges a Delta employee pushed him.

This is a difficult situation to judge. Entering a jetway without authority… well maybe then there should have been staff there to guard it or the door should have been closed. Of course it’s not a proper way to board since the boarding pass has to be scanned but again, if the gate is so short staffed that they can’t take care of supposed security procedures (or the gate agent is too lazy/forgetful to close the door) this is a problem.

What I would be interested in is the conversation when the agent met the passenger and the way it developed including the tone of voice that was being used. I have seen airline staff that likes to go on power trips and has a snotty attitude but I have also experienced real a**holes as passengers (I don’t want to exclude myself from being quite harsh sometimes either). Since there were still people in the jetway waiting to board and the flight was not oversold maybe a friendly apology for being late would have done the trick. Maybe not, we don’t know that. Anyway it goes on.

Land then “feinted” to his left and passed the Delta agent on the right, boarded the plane and took his empty designated seat. Another Delta employee approached Land and told him to get off the plane.  Land agreed to do so if Delta would scan his ticket and let him back on the plane. Delta refused to change its policies for Attorney Land. It told Land to leave the plane immediately. Land reminded the Delta employee “of the business relationship between him and Delta (presumably based on his Skymiles status) and how good business practices would dictate he be treated with respect and accommodation.”  Delta told Land to leave the plane or face arrest. Land told Delta he would leave only if the police or TSA requested him to do so. Delta’s employee then left and summoned the City of Atlanta police.

Officer Turner of the Atlanta Police Department then entered the aircraft. Once Land saw the officer, he left the plane and spoke to the police in front of Delta in the jet-way. The police asked Delta, “Prosecute?” to which Delta responded, “Yes!”  The police officer immediately spun him around and handcuffed him behind his back, led him down the jet-way’s portable steps to the tarmac and threw him in the back seat of a police vehicle.  Land remained handcuffed for an hour or more while the police completed paperwork.

I’m surprised that at no point in time the captain of the flight was involved in this situation. Or at least a higher up manager who would have maybe a better standing in terms of discussing the matter with the passenger. Based on the brief I can’t read from it that the customer was aggressive or loud in any way but simply refused to leave a plane which was still in the process of boarding when he arrived. Let’s not forget there are many reasons why people can be late for a flight, many of which are influenced by the airline.

The fact that a gate agent can instruct the police to arrest/prosecute someone is another matter that doesn’t sit well with me. In my opinion this should require someone higher up from Delta Station Management and not some Joe Blow who works the gates.

Again, I think if someone with a certain standing would have approached the guy such as the captain and said to him ‘Sir, based on our policy we can’t transport you today and that decision is final. You can complain to customer service or take whatever formal steps you deem necessary.’ he would have packed his stuff and left. He knows if the captain tell him he won’t go the game is over. Why create this booha? The only reason I can see is a gate agent on a power trip trying to show it to a snotty customer.

So the whole situation ended in the arrest, booking and eventual release of the passenger.

The police then transported Land to a city prison handcuffed behind the back, but not otherwise restrained. The police booked, photographed and fingerprinted Land.

The police charged him with disorderly conduct with violence, and failure to obey signage. Land posted bail and the police released him at 4:00 a.m. on April 20, 2013. Land remained in custody for eleven (11) hours. The police eventually dismissed all criminal charges.

Land retrieved his belongings. Delta cancelled his connecting flights from Atlanta to San Diego and from Los Angeles to Philadelphia because he breached security.  Delta offered to sell him a one-way ticket to San Diego for $550.00.

I’m not well versed in this type of law, especially in the U.S. so if someone could chime in please do. Why arrest someone (I can see the point of temporary arrest to assess the situation), charge him and then drop the charges without even going to court? Doesn’t that allege he didn’t do anything wrong in the first place?

Following the whole mess the passenger later filed a lawsuit. He claimed:

False Imprisonment; Intentional infliction of emotional distress / negligent infliction of emotional distress.

The court finds the passengers claims to be without merit and dismisses the lawsuit.

After two attempts, Land does not state claims for false imprisonment, intentional infliction of emotional distress, or negligent infliction of emotional distress. Land does not allege Delta detained him or provided false information to the police leading to his detention. Land does not allege conduct by Delta sufficient for intentional infliction of emotional distress. Land does not allege negligence on the part of Delta supporting a claim for negligent infliction of emotional distress. Delta’s motion to dismiss Counts I and III of the amended complaint is granted in the accompanying order.

At least he didn’t incur any noteworthy legal costs since he represented himself.

Conclusion

This is a perfect case of a situation changing from bad to worse. The conflict which was brewing up could have easily been defused by having some sort of proper customer management process in place to approach customers such as these. Again I’m not sure why they didn’t just tell the pilot what was happening on his plane and he spares a minute to have a word with the guy.

The approach of the passenger was certainly not ideal either but I’m trying to relive the situation in his shoes. Coming to the gate with an open door, no staff, people boarding the plane inside the jetway. Why not go down there? And then the gate agent who didn’t lock the door after ‘closing the flight’ and disappearing gives him an attitude… I’ve flown through Philadelphia multiple times and let’s say those were not the friendliest people on earth (US Airways staff though).

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