Alaska Airlines kicks 75-year-old passenger wearing respirator helmet off flight

‘I was emotionally violated,’ says woman

Helen Coffey
Tuesday 20 October 2020 14:35 BST
Airline kicks 75-year-old woman wearing respirator helmet off flight
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A woman says she was left feeling “emotionally violated” after Alaska Airlines allegedly kicked her off a flight for wearing a respirator helmet.

Judy Ferguson, a 75-year-old with terminal pulmonary fibrosis, was due to fly from Fairbanks International Airport in Alaska to Seattle on 10 October for a meeting with her doctor.

Although she wore an N95 mask and a visor while boarding, she then changed into a respirator helmet on board as she believed it was safer.

This did not align with the airline’s mask policy.

“The agent told me to take off my respirator helmet,” she told Alaska radio station Kuac FM.  

“I told him I’m 75, I have lung fibrosis, which is terminal. I’m going to critical appointments in Seattle, at University of Washington Medical Center. And I will not remove my ventilator helmet.”

Mrs Ferguson claimed that she tried to explain that her helmet would be safer than the surgical or cloth face coverings accepted by the carrier on the four-and-a-half-hour flight, but the crew member alerted his supervisor.

She said she was told to get off the plane six times, before Alaska crew removed her bags and escorted her from the aircraft.

Mrs Ferguson alleges she was met by a police officer who manhandled her to the airline ticket desk.

“I was emotionally violated,” she said. “I had tremendous stress. A bruise on my arm. It was beyond belief!”

Alaska staff offered to rebook her on another flight leaving two hours later if she calmed down, but Mrs Ferguson said she turned them down and left the airport.

A spokesperson from Alaska Department of Transportation told The Independent that Fairbanks International Airport Police were called to Gate 2 by Alaska Airlines regarding a “disturbance” on board an aircraft.

“Once they arrived, they were informed Mrs Judith Ferguson would not leave the aircraft after airline employees and flight crews requested she deplane for failure to comply with crew instruction,” they said. 

“Alaska Airlines staff escorted Mrs Ferguson off the flight, where she was met at Gate 2 by airport police who stood by while Alaska Airlines staff attempted to rebook Mrs Ferguson on another flight. 

“However she was uncooperative and verbally hostile to airline employees, which resulted in her not being rebooked that day.  Fairbanks International Airport Police escorted Mrs Ferguson out of the secured area after she refused to leave the airline ticket counter and was disruptive to their operations.”  

The spokesperson added that Mrs Ferguson has made several public accusations about airport officers during the interaction.

“FAI takes any accusation of professional misconduct seriously and is investigating the incident, including reviewing statements, body camera and terminal video to ensure appropriate, professional actions were taken.” 

The Independent has approached Alaska Airline for comment.

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It’s far from the first altercation over masks on flights.

A Trump supporter was kicked off a Southwest Airlines flight after he “repeatedly” lowered his mask, according to the carrier.

Video of the unnamed man, who was wearing a “Trump 2020” mask and “Black Voices for Trump” hat, was shared on social media.

The woman recording the video seems to suggest that the man only lowered his mask to eat a snack. She can be heard asking, “Can you tell me the policy that prevents him from taking his mask off while he’s eating please?”

The woman claimed the male passenger was being discriminated against because of his political affiliations, saying: “It’s the hat and the mask, it’s not the eating.”

However, the airline has stressed that the passenger was removed after repeatedly failing to comply with instructions from the crew.

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