The plane slowly started to taxi along the Chicago Midway International Airport’s runway. Peggy Uhle turned off her phone in accordance with the rules and sat back, preparing herself for take-off. That’s when something unexpected happened.
Instead of making it to the runway and taking off, the plane changed direction and started to return to the boarding gate instead. Everyone was understandably confused then the flight attendant approached her and told her she’d need to get off the plane immediately
Anyone who has flown has either experienced or seen someone experience great concern before and during take-off. Nervous flyers will white-knuckle the arm rests of their seats during this unsettling moment.
However, for most people flying is a fairly pleasant and enjoyable experience. Peggy expected nothing less when she boarded her flight that day. However, as it turned out, she would not experience what she expected to.
Peggy wasn’t unaccustomed to flying and knew the drill already. As the plane began to move she obediently turned off her phone and made sure her seatbelt was properly secured. She also checked that her seat was properly upright.
She did a last check to make sure she didn’t have any belongings that were obstructing the aisle. Naturally, she did the same thing every other passenger did. She sat back and relaxed, waiting for take off.
Uhle was traveling from Chicago, Illinois to Cleaveland, Ohio. She chose to fly with the intention of saving a little bit of time as the flight cut down the travel time compared to taking a car.
Since Chicago and Cleaveland are about 350 miles apart, the trip by car will take close to six hours. Opting for the plane meant that she would be there in about an hour instead. However, the plane started to turn back before it even made it to the runway.
Everything seemed to be going according to plan until the plane suddenly changed course. Needless to say, all the passengers were rather confused by the sudden change. Everyone started to look around, wondering what was happening.
Uhle recalls seeing the flight attendant approaching her. The attendant walked straight up to Uhle and told her that she needed to “I figured I was on the wrong plane,” Uhle told BoardingArea.com during a 2015 interview.
Midway International Airport officially opened in 1927 and was the primary airport in the region until the O’Hare International airport opened 28 years later.
However, Midway International Airport will always be remembered by Uhle for a wholly different and unexpected reason.
Uhle had no idea that on that day in May 2015 that she would not be reaching her destination at all. When the flight attendant first approached her Uhle had no idea what was happening. Why was she coming towards her?
She had no idea why she wasn’t being allowed to fly. She started to think that perhaps she had somehow boarded the wrong plane. However, it would soon become apparent that there was a much larger problem at hand.
However, what happened to Uhle was not an isolated incident. Many other people have been removed from flights out of Chicago. Another such incident occurred in April of 2017 to David Dao Duy Anh.
David Dao Duy Anh is a Vietnamese-American doctor who was removed from a United Airlines flight by force. It all happened because four members of the airline staff needed to get to Louisville but no one was willing to give up their seat.
Because no one offered up their seats, the airline randomly chose four customers to remove from the plane. Three of the selected passengers accepted without any issue. Dao, however, did not want to get off the plane.
The airline CEO, Oscar Munoz, sent an email to The New York saying that Dao was “disruptive” and “belligerent.” The other witnesses on the plane had a different version of the story, however.
Dao, a pulmonologist, urgently needed to get to Louisville by the next morning because he had to work. This meant that there was no way that getting off the plane was possible.
The other passengers and video footage showed that Dao had been “polite and matter-of-fact.”
Witnesses on that plane in Chicago O’Hare International Airport claimed that airline staff was less than friendly. Then, when security officers arrived to escort Dao from the aircraft, they became aggressive.
Cell phone video recorded by passengers shows staff knocking his face against an armrest as he’s yanked out of his seat, only to be pulled by his arms off the plane. Later, Dao agreed on a settlement with the airline for his mistreatment.
In other cases, meanwhile, passengers have been removed from flights for unacceptable behavior.
For instance, in a separate episode on a Southwest Airlines flight from Chicago to Houston in October 2018, one female passenger became difficult after a flight attendant asked her to fold up her table for lift-off.
Witnesses then described the unidentified woman getting cranky at the airline staff member’s request to fold her table.
And when she refused to comply with the flight attendant’s instructions, she became verbally abusive.
As a result of the female passenger’s tirade, the pilot then taxied the aircraft back to the departure gate before take-off. However, as the woman was escorted from the plane, video footage shows her launching into a racially abusive tirade against airline staff.
Nevertheless, passengers didn’t seem to mind being delayed by an hour, and they cheered as she was ejected from the flight.
A statement released by Southwest Airlines and published by the Daily Mail in October 2018 claimed that the passenger had ignored airline staff when instructed to follow safety procedures.
It said, “The customer became unruly and verbally abusive toward our flight attendants, and the decision was made to return to the gate to deplane the customer, where she was met by local law enforcement officers.”
However, another passenger was removed from a Southwest Airlines aircraft for far less than that. A flight was due to depart from Sacramento, California heading for Austin, Texas, via Los Angeles in May 2019.
But, according to KTXL, problems arose when refueling and maintenance issues delayed its scheduled flight by several hours.
Concerned with keeping their customers hydrated, airline staff started to hand out water to those waiting patiently on board the flight.
Perhaps in an effort to make light of the situation, a passenger reportedly suggested that the staff serve vodka instead of water. But the flight attendant didn’t find his quip funny.
Peter Uzelac, who witnessed the incident, told KTXL in May 2019, “He said something [like], ‘They should be passing out vodka because we’ve been waiting so long.’ [The flight attendant] came by and was like, ‘I don’t think that and I didn’t like your joke.’”
The situation then escalated when Uzelac’s wife intervened.
As Uzelac described, “Then my wife tried to butt in there and say, ‘Look, we’ve been on this plane for hours.’ And [the attendant] says, ‘Well, so have I, so get used to it.’ Then all of a sudden I see her on the telephone up in front.”
The plane then returned to the gate and the man was removed by Sacramento County sheriff officers.
Although Southwest Airlines didn’t apologize for the incident, they did issue a statement.
As reported by MSN, it said, “We regret any less-than-positive experience a customer has onboard our aircraft. We welcome over 100 million customers each year and we aim to maintain the comfort of all while delivering Southwest hospitality.”
Just a few weeks before Peggy Uhle’s experience with Southwest Airlines, meanwhile, another passenger claimed they’d had a particularly unpleasant experience.
The customer alleged that the company had prevented her from contacting her husband, after she’d received a disturbing message from him.
Passenger Karen Momsen-Evers from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, received a message from her husband claiming that he intended to take his own life.
She replied back to him before the flight from New Orleans, Louisiana, to Milwaukee departed. Then the distraught wife made a further request to airline staff to make an emergency phone call.
However, the crew instructed Momsen-Evers to set her phone to flight mode. According to the Daily Mail, once the plane had taken to the air, she asked another crew member for an opportunity to make an urgent call to her husband.
And their response allegedly was that there wasn’t anything they could do for her.
Momsen-Evers then continued her journey home; but when she got there she was greeted by police officers who broke the news that her husband had committed suicide.
Southwest Airlines insisted it’s routine for air crew to inform pilots of emergency situations in which passengers or the aircraft are at risk. However, that didn’t happen this time.
So what happened with Peggy Uhle in 2015 that pilots felt it necessary to turn the plane back to the departure gate? Had she become unruly, like the woman on the flight from Chicago to Houston?
Or had she offended airline staff like the man on a delayed flight from Sacramento to Houston? Well, as it turns out, she did neither of these things.
Uhle, as we explored earlier, hadn’t requested to make a call herself when she received bad news, unlike Momsen-Evers weeks earlier. Instead, there was an emergency that the Southwest Airlines passenger wasn’t aware of at home.
And as we discussed, the diligent passenger had prepared for the flight’s departure by turning her phone off.
So, as Uhle sat in her seat waiting to take off, a flight attendant came over with some instructions for her.
But the staff member wasn’t directing her to the departure gate; rather, because Uhle’s phone had been turned off, she was unaware that her husband had been desperately trying to contact her.
Unable to reach Uhle directly, then, her husband was forced to find another way to get in contact with her. A desperate situation had unfolded at home that he needed to make his wife aware of.
As a result, he contacted Southwest Airlines directly in the hope that they could pass a message on.
Realizing the urgency of the situation, airline staff alerted the pilot of the circumstances. The captain then made provisions for Uhle to return to the departure gate.
Already taxiing toward the runway, he turned the plane around and headed back to its starting point. And when it got there, gate staff instructed Uhle to call home.
When Uhle contacted her husband, he told her some devastating news. Their son had suffered a head injury and was in a coma in Denver.
It’s distressing news for any parent; but Uhle was thousands of miles away in Chicago and heading for Columbus. So how would she get to her boy?
With Uhle frantic about her son’s life-threatening condition, the stricken mom had the added stress of figuring out how to get back to Denver and how she would pay for it all.
Southwestern Airlines, however, were aware of the situation, and they were one step ahead of her.
“The gate attendant already knew the situation and had booked me on a direct flight to Denver that was leaving in the next two hours,” Uhle told BoardingArea.com.
But Southwestern Airlines’ efforts and hospitality didn’t end there. It seems that staff had thought of everything so that the distraught mom didn’t have to.
Uhle continued, “[Southwest Airlines] offered a private waiting area, rerouted my luggage, allowed me to board first, and [even] packed a lunch for when I got off the plane in Denver.”
The shattered mom, then, didn’t have to do anything, because airline staff had kindly taken care of all her needs.
Furthermore, Southwest Airlines staff didn’t merely send Uhle on her way and forget about her.
As she explained to the Daily Mail, “My luggage was delivered to where I was staying, and I even received a call from Southwest asking how my son was doing.” So how much did the extra service cost Uhle?
No doubt the best part of Uhle’s predicament was that she got to be with her son with little delay.
However, that it came at no further cost to the heartbroken mom must have been an added relief; Southwest Airlines provided Uhle’s unexpected travel requirements completely free of charge.
So it seems that Southwest Airlines’ care commitment extends beyond its employees.
It reads, “We don’t take our commitments lightly. We are dedicated to doing the right thing, we take great strides to ensure [passengers’] safety, and fostering trusting relationships between our employees, our customer[s], our suppliers, and our planet.”
Furthermore, in a statement made to MailOnline Travel in May 2015, a spokesperson addressed the Uhle incident.
They said, “This example is a direct reflection of the Southwest Airlines culture. Employees are empowered at Southwest to go above and beyond the call of duty…”
The Southwest Airlines statement continued, saying that staff have the freedom to, “follow their hearts to make decisions that positively impact our customers. We’re certainly proud of, but not surprised by, any of the hard work that went into doing the right thing for Ms. Uhle and her family.”
The staff’s hospitality, then, is something their employers expect.
Nevertheless, the airline’s attentiveness was a move hugely appreciated by Uhle. As she described to BoardingArea.com, “The care that I was shown is second to none. We have always liked Southwest Airlines and now I can’t say enough good things about them.”
But what of Uhle’s son? Well, it turns out that despite suffering a head trauma, he was soon on the mend, according to Metaspoon