Sobbing mother video prompts controversy for American Airlines

Gregory FEIFER
American Airlines said the flight attendant seen shouting in a viral video has been removed from duty while it investigates the incident

Less than two weeks after United Airlines prompted a public relations crisis for dragging a passenger from his seat on an overbooked flight, rival American Airlines is being buffeted by its own controversy.

The airline said on Saturday it is investigating video of a flight attendant angrily confronting a passenger who had come to the defense of a sobbing woman with a baby in her arms.

The viral video, filmed by another passenger, shows a distraught mother carrying her baby boarding the plane moments after the flight attendant had apparently forcibly taken a stroller from her, with other passengers registering shock.

"We have seen the video and have already started an investigation to obtain the facts," American Airlines said in an email to AFP. "The actions of our team member captured here do not appear to reflect patience or empathy, two values necessary for customer care."

The incident on the plane -- scheduled to fly from San Francisco to Dallas -- was filmed by Surain Adyanthaya, who posted the video to her Facebook account on Friday.

"OMG! AA Flight attendant violently took a stroller from a lady with her baby on my flight, hitting her and just missing the baby," she wrote. "Then he tried to fight a passenger who stood up for her."

The video does not show the first part of the incident, and begins with the woman crying uncontrollably as a pilot and other airline employees stand by impassively.

Another passenger waiting to board the plane later described the preceding confrontation to the Los Angeles television station KTLA-TV.

"The flight attendant wrestled the stroller away from the woman, who was sobbing, holding one baby with the second baby in a car seat on the ground next to her," Olivia Morgan told the station.

- Argument escalates -

In the Facebook video, a seated male passenger later stands up, saying, "I'm not going to sit here and watch this stuff."

"Hey, bud," he says to the flight attendant. "You do that to me, and I'll knock you flat."

"Hey, you stay out of this!" the flight attendant shouts back.

The argument escalates as the female passenger with the baby, now off camera, is heard sobbing uncontrollably.

"Hit me," the flight attendant says to the male passenger. "Come on, hit me. You don't know what the story is!"

"I don't care what the story is," the male passenger replies. "You almost hurt a baby."

American Airlines said the flight attendant had been removed from duty while it investigated the incident.

The airline's policy says passengers can carry small collapsible strollers for checking at the gate, according to the company's website. Larger strollers must be checked in at a ticket counter.

"What we see on this video does not reflect our values or how we care for our customers," American said in its email. "We are deeply sorry for the pain we have caused this passenger and her family and to any other customers affected by the incident."

"After electing to take another flight, we are taking special care of her and her family and upgrading them to first class for the remainder of their international trip," the airline added.

- Flight attendant 'threatened' -

The Association of Professional Flight Attendants, which represents American Airlines flight attendants, put out a statement published in US media saying the airline and the public should not rush to judgment until all the facts were in.

The association's president, Bob Ross, added: "It appears another passenger may have threatened a flight attendant with violence, which is a violation of federal law and no small matter."

United Airlines prompted a firestorm of controversy earlier this month after videos showed a passenger dragged from his seat during an incident in which, according to his lawyer, he lost two front teeth and suffered a broken nose and a concussion.

The scandal set off widespread criticism about the treatment of passengers by an industry that has slashed perks and customer service in recent years.