The Skills That Saved Us on Southwest Flight 201

October 24, 2016
Two pairs of hands clasped together.

You might have heard about a recent Southwest flight from New York to Milwaukee, where a passenger started a verbal/physical disturbance and had to be restrained.

That was my flight home.

I was in the middle of the plane (in the emergency exit row, no less), so I didn’t really understand what was happening at first, but what I saw was a man moving aggressively up the cabin, shouting to us fellow passengers and to the flight attendants that the plane was going down. That we didn’t understand. That we needed to listen to him.

The situation escalated very quickly, with the man’s travel companion getting involved, other passengers in the area trying to intervene (both verbally and physically), and many other passengers standing up in their seats, trying to record the interaction on their phones, and so on.

It was really scary, especially because it seemed like the man was trying to overcome all the de-escalation attempts and get into the cockpit.

At the height of it all, I wondered if I should send my husband the “I love you” text, just in case something really bad happened. (I didn’t do it, partly so as not to scare my husband to death, but also because I didn’t want the guy to see me reaching under my seat into my purse and think it was an act of aggression.)

He looked like any other ordinary passenger—like a guy on a business trip—so I still have no idea what the circumstances were or why he was so upset, but we had to make a really quick landing into Milwaukee, and the man was escorted off the flight by local law enforcement.

What really struck me was that the flight crew was amazing.

Talk about a situation that could have gotten really bad, really fast. One passenger shouting and making threats, his travel companion plus other passengers getting involved, all the other passengers—including elderly people and young children—trying to figure out what was happening.

It had the potential for being an even scarier, more dramatic mess.

Instead, the flight attendants handled the whole scene so well that it was obvious that this is where they spend most of their training.

Among the three of them, they were able to move passengers away from the rear of the plane, move the man back there, keep him physically in place for the rest of the flight (he continued to shout intermittently), and keep everyone else from freaking out.

The female flight attendant explained to us that we needed to get back in our seats with seat belts on, because we were going to do a really quick landing.

All three were incredibly polished and professional about the whole thing. They kept all of us safe and were very respectful to the man himself, not allowing other passengers to get in his space or lay hands on him at all. He walked out with law enforcement, but he walked out quietly and under his own steam.

Guess how much we all applauded and wanted to shake their hands over and over again?!!!

Maybe this kind of thing happens all the time on planes and I just don’t realize it. I’ve certainly never experienced anything like it. And I was really awed by how well the team handled the entire incident and provided proper support to everyone—the man himself, the rest of us passengers, and of course each other. It was such a good reminder to me that escalating incidents can (and do) happen everywhere. And it emphasized for me that the work we do at CPI is so important and necessary.

I was awed by how well the team provided proper support to everyone.

Getting home

I stayed as calm as I could throughout the incident. Exiting the plane, waiting for my baggage, traveling home—I held it together. But when I stepped inside and saw my husband and daughters in the flesh, I dissolved into tears and sweat.

I had one of those moments of gratefulness—for family, for health, for life, and the incredible people who kept us all safe on that plane.

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