This is one of the most bizarre cases I’ve ever come across. Gregory Machon says he was kicked off his flight because he was sleeping. With his eyes open.
His condition, called nocturnal lagophthalmos, may affect somewhere between 4 and 20 percent of the population, so you would imagine the US Airways flight attendants who made the call to remove him from the flight had seen something like this before. Apparently not.
Here’s what happened to Machon: As he explains it, he was on a flight from Baltimore to Frankfurt last May. After boarding, he pressed the flight attendant call button because he wanted to see if he could move to a different seat. No one came, and as the plane taxied down the runway, he dozed off.
Except, his eyes were open.
After several minutes of sleep, a flight attendant came to respond to the “flight attendant call” button that I had pressed much earlier. She tried to get my attention, but being asleep, I did not respond. She tried again, then touched my shoulder. The physical touch woke me, and I turned to see what she wanted.
The flight attendant found my initial unresponsiveness startling, and assumed it was some sort of medical condition. Although I calmly explained that I had simply dozed off with my eyes open, she insisted that I was not in proper health.
At this point she addressed all of the passengers of the plane, asking if there were any medical professionals on board. Two heroic citizens came to the call – a veterinarian and a pediatric nurse. Even though I doubted their qualifications, I calmly answered their questions in the interest of calming everyone down. I remained patient and explained what had happened.
Neither of the medical professionals had ever heard of nocturnal lagophthalmos, so they began to speculate about his condition.
They brought up numerous possibilities for what could be “wrong” with me, and discussed my medical status very openly in the aisle, with all the other passengers listening intently. Even after I told them that it happens to me relatively often, the very insistent flight attendant joined by the the veterinarian and pediatric nurse (with their combined expertise) concluded that I should be checked out by EMTs.
The plane taxied back to the terminal so that I could get off and be checked out. By this time the flight had already been delayed by over an hour due to my situation, and the other passengers were very impatient. They applauded as I stood up out of my seat, which was humiliating in itself.
The EMTs checked me out, and with their actual qualifications, quickly determined that the incident was nothing to be alarmed about. I signed a waiver and they gave me permission to get back on the plane. I was relieved that the flight could finally commence. However, the flight attendant continued to cause problems. She told the pilot that she was not willing to have me seated in her section, and that she considered me to be a liability.
So despite the approval of the EMTs, I was kicked out of the flight, and rescheduled for another one a full 24 hours later. I was set up in a hotel that was under construction at the time that I doubt would earn a half star raiting and given meal vouchers totaling $15 for dinner, breakfast and lunch. This disrupted my plans to meet family members in Zurich, and delayed my vacation by more than a day. The hotel itself was filthy, making it an awful experience besides the fact that I shouldn’t have been there to begin with.
I believe the employees of US Airways acted in an unacceptable manner, with blatant disregard for my privacy and dignity (as well as a lack of basic common sense). I have traveled on more than twenty flights a year for over ten years now and have never witnessed or even heard of a patron being treated in such a way.
US Airways offered him a voucher for being ejected from the flight, which he rejected. I contacted the airline on his behalf, but it did not respond until after this story posted, confirming the voucher offer.
Anyway, I think it goes without saying that the US Airways flight crew overreacted to this simple case of nocturnal lagophthalmos. They should have allowed him back on the plane to get on with his trip.
Next time, Machon might want to bring eye shades — just in case. Then again, maybe not.
(Photo: Feast of Fun/Flickr Creative Commons)
Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can’t. He’s the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes weekly columns for King Features Syndicate, USA Today, and the Washington Post. If you have a consumer problem you can’t solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter. Read more of Christopher’s articles here.