My Take: Why Air France Crew Was Arrested in Argentina After Passenger Complained About Seat
Last month, Air France flight 228 landed in Buenos Aires (EZE) after a 14-hour journey from Paris (CDG). Upon arrival, the crew were detained for six hours by the authorities at the airport. Why? Because they refused to upgrade a passenger, who it turns out is the daughter of a former Deputy Minister of Justice in Argentina. There is, of course, more to the story.
The Plea for an Upgrade and Detention
The young lady apparently demanded to be upgraded to business class upon boarding, and was refused because there were no available seats. To be clear, even if there were seats, there is no reason to upgrade anyone on any airline solely because they feel entitled to it. You have either paid to sit in business class or you have not. End of discussion.
During the flight she told the crew that her seatmate was behaving inappropriately and making her feel uncomfortable, but she did not provide any specifics. They moved her, as any professional crew would, but provided her a new seat in economy — the same cabin of service for which she'd paid. Again, standard protocol.
However, as they tried to clear immigration in Buenos Aires, the crew were detained. They were eventually released to their hotel after six hours in detention at the airport and handed an injunction demanding that they appear in court at 8:30am the following morning. There it emerged that the young lady claimed the man next to her was masturbating (something she did not tell the crew) and that the crew had done nothing. The purser was held in a 3’ x 3’ cell without food or water, separate from the rest of the crew, before finally being interrogated at 8:00pm. Other crew members were eventually interrogated as well. In the end, they were all released without charges being filed and sent back to France.
The Story Behind the Story
So what really happened? Having spoken with friends of mine at Air France, and having myself worked many a flight to Buenos Aires (not to mention having lived there), I can tell you that this reeks of corruption and entitlement — the latter being something we see all too often onboard. As a woman, I would never in a million years want to downplay another woman’s claim of harassment (or anyone’s for that matter), but this just doesn’t add up.
Let’s deal with the alleged harassment first, especially as this is something that we are seeing covered extensively in the media recently. If at ANY time you feel you are being harassed onboard an airplane, please notify the crew immediately. We will not tolerate any kind of harassment or inappropriate behavior, and a crew that does should be sacked. That said, if she had been harassed by another passenger, wouldn’t she have used her father’s connections to have the attacker detained and arrested? But she didn’t. Nor did she ask the crew to have him met by the authorities, which is what I would have done... and have done in similar cases.
Given the way the events unfolded, it sounds an awful lot like this young lady was simply trying to get back at the crew for not upgrading her. That's not OK.
The 3 Types that Ask for Upgrades
Almost every day, I get people asking for upgrades. There are a few types. There’s the funny guy who cracks a joke along the lines of “if you need to move anyone up front, I’ll be happy to volunteer.” Yeah, whatever dude. Then there’s the entitled elite flyer who knows the rules, knows how the upgrades work, and still tries anyway because they think we don’t know who’s next on the list. “I was next on the list so if nobody shows up, please come get me and move me up.” Not today, Satan. Then there’s the passenger who either claims to have elite status or just thinks that they're important and demands to be upgraded on those grounds. That seems to be what happened here.
For the record, none of these approaches work. One of my jobs is to provide the best service possible to our most important customers; those flying in first and business class. And providing the best service means protecting the product that they've paid for. If I allow anyone to just waltz upfront, that dilutes the value of the product. Why should I give you something for free that others have paid for?
In the Air France case, it was the perfect storm. There was a crew that politely refused an upgrade on the grounds that the cabin was full, which is frankly something I often say so that I don’t have to say, “we have plenty of seats but I’m not upgrading you because you haven’t paid for it, you entitled git.” Then there was the alleged harassment, to which the crew appropriately responded by moving the young lady’s seat. Finally, you have her connection to a government official who happened to know the right people to make the crew’s life miserable. If there had been harassment, charges would and should have been pressed, and the attacker would have been arrested upon arrival.
The case has already gone to the highest levels of government. It is an international incident. The French Foreign Minister has been asked by the SNPNC Union, which represents the Air France cabin crew, to open a formal investigation. The Argentine Ambassador to France has been summoned by the Foreign Minister, and the union is seeking legal recourse to obtain compensation and redress for the harm caused to the crew by the careless, entitled, selfish actions of a passenger who wasn't content sitting in the cabin she paid for. I only hope that the crew are recovering well and that the young lady and her father have charges brought against them for what appears to be their gross abuse of power. The lesson here: If you want to fly in business, pay for the ticket. Merci.