Coughing Teen Gets The Boot From Airline

My brother happens to work for an airline in Hawaii. However, his incessant prodding isn’t the reason I am writing this blog. In a story that has made headlines in the “Aloha State” and beyond one has to wonder about the powers airline staff wield in the name of “safety.”

Last week a 16-year-old girl who was returning to Hawaii from a school spring break trip to Washington D.C. and New York was kicked off her flight for coughing too much.

Rachel Collier was escorted off a Continental Airlines flight departing Newark, New Jersey for Honolulu right before take off. According to the teen, she had caught a cold during her East Coast trip and fell asleep on the plane. She says she woke up coughing and gasping for breath.

“Everyone was looking at me,” Collier told news reporters. “I couldn’t talk because I lost my voice coughing so much. I was panicking.”

The high school student says flight attendants approached her during her coughing fit and gave her water. In addition, a doctor who happened to be on the plane at the time examined Collier and said she would be OK to make the 10-hour flight. However, despite the doctor’s diagnosis and Collier’s wish to remain on board, the plane’s captain returned the aircraft to the gate to drop off Collier and one of her one of her teachers.

“The captain said I had to get off the plane and I started crying,” Collier told reporters.

The teen was removed from the plane while her 39 classmates returned to Hawaii without her.

Collier’s teacher told reporters that she was “shocked” by the airlines move. The teacher was given the boot and was made responsible for finding over night accommodations in New York City and for buying clothes and toiletries since the airline refused to unload their checked baggage.

Continental’s response to the situation was simple. Airline representatives said in a statement that Collier was coughing “uncontrollably” and that “the captain felt he was acting in the
best interest of the passenger and other passengers on the flight.”

The teen’s mother had a different perspective. Stephanie Collier calls the airline’s move “extreme” and said the decision to remove her daughter was “uncalled for.”

According to Collier, Continental agreed to reimburse the expenses incurred during her daughter’s extra day in New York, including the hotel.

All that for a coughing fit?

Do you think the airline could (should) have handled the situation differently?

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Michele Cheplic

About Michele Cheplic

Michele Cheplic was born and raised in Hilo, Hawaii, but now lives in Wisconsin. Michele graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison with a degree in Journalism. She spent the next ten years as a television anchor and reporter at various stations throughout the country (from the CBS affiliate in Honolulu to the NBC affiliate in Green Bay). She has won numerous honors including an Emmy Award and multiple Edward R. Murrow awards honoring outstanding achievements in broadcast journalism. In addition, she has received awards from the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association for her reports on air travel and the Wisconsin Education Association Council for her stories on education. Michele has since left television to concentrate on being a mom and freelance writer.