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Elderly doctors allegedly kicked off airplane for 'threatening' behavior after boarding pass error

A couple was allegedly kicked off a United Airlines flight after an altercation over boarding passes. (Photo by Nicolas Economou/NurPhoto)

A pair of elderly doctors were allegedly kicked off a United Airlines flight when an argument over boarding passes turned “threatening.”

Jessie Au, 68, and Guil Wientjes, 66, retired pharmaceutics professors in Carlsbad, California, were booked on June 24th United flights from Washington, DC to Los Angeles. The couple had flown east to visit the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the National Institute of Health (NIH) to discuss a research project on harmful drug interactions and treatment for a rare form of cancer.

According to an email sent to the United Passenger Incident Review Committee and provided to Yahoo Lifestyle by Au, the argument began after the couple switched seats with another passenger so they could sit together.

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A new passenger then claimed to have been assigned Wientjes’ original seat. Au says when she showed a crew member her husband’s boarding pass to prove he bought the seat, the employee took it to the back of the plane. When she returned, the pass had allegedly been misplaced.

Au says the crew member asked her for the boarding pass again and Au responded, “I gave it to you.”

In her email to United, Au claims that the flight attendant said to her, “Get out of that seat now” with “a tone one should not even use to talk to a dog.”

“The situation became tense and chaotic,” wrote Au. Intensifying the confusion, was her husband’s electronic boarding pass which contained different information than the paper version.

Au says she tapped the elbow of a crew member to get her attention. “As they continued to ignore me, my husband also tapped the same person to try to get her attention,” she wrote, adding that the employee kept yelling, “Do not touch me.”

The doctor wrote that she and her husband were told to leave the plane and when she asked why, the crew member said, "Because you are threatening to me and threatening to her” referring to another employee.

Au admits that several crew members asked she and her husband to deplane, but she refused, demanding an explanation. When a voice over the loudspeaker announced that “a situation” was causing the entire plane to empty out, the couple left.

According to Au’s statement to United, passengers were sorry to see the couple leave and one shouted out, “We love you!”

Au says United re-booked their flights for the following morning but they initially were not able to board. “It was almost as if we were on a blacklist,” Au tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “The gate agent called a supervisor who let us board after we promise ‘not to cause trouble.’”

In her complaint to United, Au said her situation was not unlike that of Dr. David Dao, a Kentucky physician who at O'Hare International Airport in 2017, was physically pulled from his assigned seat on an overbooked United Airlines flight. A viral video of crew members dragging the 69-year-old man down the aisle, bloodied with his glasses askew, forced the carrier to reinstitute policies for passenger removal.

As USA Today reports, Dao reached a settlement with the carrier for an undisclosed amount.

Au tells Yahoo Lifestyle that she received an August 29th letter from United stating that she is still allowed to travel with the company. However, she’s speaking out about the airline’s “failed system,” first sharing her story with a Forbes reporter.

A spokesperson from United tells Yahoo Lifestyle, “At United, we hold ourselves to the highest standards of professionalism. Following this issue, we reached out to our customers and our team to find out what happened.”

“The airlines give crew members unchecked authority — it’s their words against anyone else’s,” Au tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “No one from the airline has apologized to me.”

Au says that because she has reached Premier Silver and Premier Gold status with the United Mileage Plus program, she will keep her upcoming flights. However, in the future, she will switch carriers.

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