Southwest Kicks Allegedly Sober Passenger Off Flight for Seeming Drunk
Southwest Airlines is famous for occasionally and removing folks from flights for questionable reasons: being too fat, too gay, too weepy, too Muslim. Even your **** might pose a problem. Now a private school principal tells us that she wasn’t permitted to board a flight because an employee told her she was wasted, even though she says was completely sober — and has the documentation to prove it. This time, however, Southwest’s defense goes beyond one employee’s discretion.
Last weekend, Erinn Chioma, the principal of a Wilmington, Delaware area private school, enjoyed a lovely mother/daughter excursion with her 15-year-old daughter, three of her colleagues and their daughters at the Essence music festival in New Orleans. On the evening of Monday, July 9th, the group departed New Orleans and headed home, arriving for a layover in Houston about an hour later. Southwest is the “official” airline of the Essence festival, so Chioma wasn’t surprised to find the terminal more crowded than she had ever seen it before; the final leg of the group’s flight back home was delayed for an additional 20 minutes. Chioma says she took that time to charge her phone, use the bathroom and buy a beer along with her coworker at Buffalo Wild Wings, which she took with her to the boarding gate in a clear plastic cup.
Back at the gate, Chioma says she noticed that the employees seemed “frustrated” about having to deal with the last minute gate changes and standby issues. When she approached the counter to inquire about the status of her flight, a customer service representative told Chioma that her flight would board in ten minutes but that Chioma would not be on it because she was too drunk to fly.
“I initially thought she was joking, as I was not drunk or under the influence of any substances,” Chioma said. She told her daughter and colleagues to go ahead and board the plane — assuming that the situation would clear up as soon as she made it clear that she wasn’t wasted — and offered to recite the Gettysburg address or to say the alphabet backwards to prove that she was sober. In response, the Southwest employee asked Chioma if she was on medication. Chioma told her she took pills for ADHD, and the rep told her she shouldn’t have mixed medication with alcohol — a fact she knew, the rep said, because her son has ADHD.
(Okay, thanks, Doc.)
The employee gave Chioma a partial Hilton hotel voucher (she still had to pay $59.99) and asked if she wanted to call the police. Definitely, Chioma said. But, according to Chioma, the police officer who arrived at the scene told her the airline had the right to refuse service to passengers and, even though he could tell she wasn’t drunk, he couldn’t give her a breathalyzer because they’re only used in traffic situations. An observer urged Chioma to go to a nearby hospital and get a toxicology test to prove her sobriety. Chimoa’s daughter got off the plane and joined her mother, and they went to the hospital for a toxicology test — Chioma had a point to prove. As you can see from the photo of the report, provided to us by Chioma, her blood alcohol level was <.003 only a few hours after the incident, meaning that she was sober — and even if her blood alcohol level was higher at the gate and had dropped during the time between the incident and the test, it’s unlikely to have dropped by a factor of, say, 20
Chioma told us that she’s racked her brain trying to figure out why she was publicly singled out and is convinced that it’s because Southwest couldn’t handle the extra business from the festival and had to come up with some way to get people off the flight — since she was limping due to leg pain and had a cup of beer in her hand, she was an easy target. “I felt so disempowered; as a patron, customer, and a citizen,” Chioma said. “I just couldn’t believe this mistreatment could be legal.”
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