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The Bell Curve: A flight gone awry

August 11, 2010|By Joseph N. Bell

But for Cindy, who felt she had done her duty, the trouble was just beginning.

The plane was almost full and Cindy had settled down with a book, when she felt a suit with proper credentials standing over her and heard him ask her to step outside, where he asked her to repeat what she had told the co-pilot. She knew it by heart now.

Back in her seat 20 minutes later, the same suit and a similarly credentialed woman approached her, as she put it, "very assertively," telling her to get her carry-ons and come with them. When she asked what was going on, she met silence.

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She was escorted into an airport office, crying and asking why she was getting "treated like a criminal for doing the right thing."

She watched with sinking heart as her plane taxied by containing her checked luggage and the eyewitnesses who could confirm her story. For the fourth time she was asked to tell that story. Then the credentialed woman told her that the captain had tested negative and that "he and his staff do not want you on his plane."

About 11 p.m., Cindy was handed vouchers for a flight the following morning and two expired dinner coupons, a room voucher for a downtown Atlanta hotel and a shuttle to get there. Then she was abandoned, without any personal luggage, in a near-empty airport, "scared, alone and vulnerable."

By that time, the shuttles had quit running and the restaurants were closed. It was past midnight before she got into the hotel after a $100 cab ride and "so full of anger I couldn't possibly sleep."

"They kept telling me that they took this seriously," she recounted. "Well, so did I. If I suspected that an airplane full of people might be endangered by my keeping quiet, I would do exactly what I did in Atlanta again. I thought I was just being vigilant. It would only cause trouble for the pilot if he were guilty. When he was cleared by the test, the whole matter should have ended, and I would have accepted an apology.

"Oh, yes, there's one other thing I learned. You can't depend on people to support you if doing so involves personal risk. I can still see the woman passenger who helped start this avoiding my eyes as I was walked up the aisle of that plane with my carry-ons."

Cindy's other phone was ringing as we talked. It was KTTV FOX 11 wanting to interview her for a program called "America's Newsroom." If hard news doesn't get in the way, she is scheduled to appear there today.

JOSEPH N. BELL lives in Newport Beach. His column runs Thursdays.

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