The Investigators

Oct 29, 2012 10:15 PM by Nichole Szemerei

Group of Tucson travelers experience 'Unfriendly Skies'

TUCSON - In September of last year, 12 coworkers from a Tucson business headed to Los Angeles for a sales meeting. Eight ended up in handcuffs and four of them are suing. The News 4 Tucson Investigators obtained the court documents that give the group's account of what happened on the Southwest flight home. They call it negligent, malicious and false.

According to the complaint, before returning to Tucson, the four plaintiffs and some coworkers say they spent about an hour eating and drinking at their hotel. Two of the plaintiffs drank again at the airport.

Kate Hanni, an advocate for flyers' rights and executive director, flyersrights.org says drinking on the ground can lead to bigger problems in the air due to the effects of altitude and pressure.

"If there was any question about these people being drunk before they got on, the gate agent has a responsibility to prevent them from getting on the plane."

The group did board the plane without issue, but the plaintiffs say the pilot came back and said, "You guys are having too much fun and threatened to call the FBI if they didn't "keep it down."

"If the pilot actually thought there was a threat or a risk, absolutely he should not have taken off," says Hanni.

The plane did take off and the passengers were refused service.

"It does cause me to wonder what these people were doing that would have a Southwest pilot have to come back and chastise them and threaten them before the flight took off."

When they pulled into the gate, everyone was asked to stay onboard for an "unidentified situation." Tucson Airport Authority boarded and handcuffed the eight coworkers.

Right now there is no passenger bill of rights. Hanni is working to change that, but for now nothing is spelled out about what passengers can or cannot say and do.

"You just sort of have to go along with and not resist what happens or it can get much worse for you."

After two hours of questioning in the middle of the airport, the group was given disorderly conduct citations.

The four are suing for emotional distress, wrongful arrest, and false imprisonment. Their complaint points out there were no "substantive interviews with other passengers" and no record or written statement from Southwest agents.

About two months later, the FAA dismissed all charges.

Because litigation is pending everyone has refused to comment from the plaintiffs to TAA to Southwest.

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