Southwest Airlines Boeing 737-7H4 aircraft
Photograph ©2016 by Brian Cohen.

Was Law Enforcement Officer Justified in Threatening Arrest of Passengers Stranded By Southwest Airlines?

Watch the video.

During the meltdown of operations which Southwest Airlines was experiencing in late December of 2022 — which led to the cancellation of greater than 1,500 flights and the delay of additional flights — a law enforcement officer at Nashville International Airport was reportedly called by an employee of Southwest Airlines and threatened to arrest stranded passengers who did not vacate the secure area of the airport.

Was Law Enforcement Officer Justified in Threatening Arrest of Passengers Stranded By Southwest Airlines?

The incident was caught on video as it happened and posted to Twitter.

The incident was also posted to Tim Tok as well by Amani Robinson, who is 20 years of age and was traveling with her mother at the time she recorded the scene of the incident. They were trying to get to Ohio and were two of the passengers who were threatened with arrest for trespassing by the law enforcement officer.

An apology was eventually issued from Nashville International Airport and posted at its official Twitter site — and this is the apology from official personnel at the airport in its entirety:

At Nashville International Airport, we pride ourselves in reflecting the spirit of Music City and always providing the best customer service. The extraordinary number of flight cancellations over the last week caused great stress for our travelers, and included an unfortunate incident involving a passenger, airline staff, and a BNA officer. We are deeply sorry that this occurred and have taken this situation to heart. We are working with Southwest Airlines, and our other carriers, to foster better communication among team members so that every traveler enjoys the optimal experience at BA.

BNA’s core values are respect, integrity, service, and excellence. We strive to live these values 365 days a year with all members of our team. We also focus on listening, learning, and reflecting so that we can continually improve our processes. The flight cancellations during this holiday season were unprecedented at BA, including 1,372 cancelled flights impacting approximately 160,000 passengers.

The BNA team worked around the clock as the events unfolded. We are deeply sorry that the flight cancellations caused so much heartache for travelers, especially during this holiday season. We regret that travelers did not receive timely and consistent information prior to and during their visit to Nashville International Airport. We are committed to continually improving our customer service.

However, one response was to post an official message from the airport which had since been deleted.

The issue of the law enforcement officer was not addressed in the purported original message:

The Department of Public Safety at Nashville International Airport® works to ensure the safety of all passengers throughout the airport. Unfortunately, the recent winter weather disruptions have brought operational challenges to airlines and airports across the country leading to flight delays and cancellations. With the high number of flights impacted at BNA on Sunday evening, travelers were asked to visit the pre-security ticketing counters for help to rebook flights. Southwest Airlines personnel contacted the Airport Communications Center asking that a police officer be dispatched to C- concourse, Gate C-7/9, to escort passengers to the pre- security ticketing counters. We understand and appreciate the frustrations travelers may have, and we are working to provide the best passenger experience for all.

This incident was first briefly mentioned in this article titled Chief Commercial Officer of Southwest Airlines Apologizes; Offers Reimbursement For Reasonable Expenses.

Final Boarding Call

Some employee of Southwest Airlines allegedly called the police to thwart off what may have been perceived as a potentially dangerous situation involving an angry crowd. Specific information of what led to that call seems to not be known; so I cannot tell at the time this article was written as to whether that call was justified, premature, or simply unnecessary.

The crowd did not seem unruly in the videos. If someone had not done so already, at least one employee from Southwest Airlines should have been there for the customers — even if only to talk to them. Usually, addressing the concerns of the customers is at least half the battle. If they just wanted to be heard, that would have been an ideal opportunity for some sort of catharsis on the part of the customers.

Although I sympathize with the unhappy passengers with canceled tickets who were forced to endure the meltdown of the systemwide operations of Southwest Airlines through no fault of their own, they are still required to abide by the law — and congregating in the secure area of the airport may technically be considered trespassing by the law if none of the passengers had valid tickets; but being in the secure part of the airport does not necessarily help get them closer to resolution of the situation in their favor anyway. They are likely better off at the ticket counter of the airport, as the personnel there would theoretically be better able to handle their issues with the ongoing irregular operations.

Then again, I also do not believe that the law enforcement officer should have threatened arrest on the passengers, as doing so only exacerbated the situation. That action should have been one of last resort. When people are in some form of distress, law enforcement officers should be doing all that they can to help them and mitigate the situation, rather than to only contribute more to their distress.

In my opinion — based on the information available to me at the time this article was written — Southwest Airlines exacerbated an already deteriorating situation with these customers and handled this potential customer service opportunity poorly.

Photograph ©2016 by Brian Cohen.

  1. I guess the Nashville City Jail is now a partner with Southwest Airlines. Mighty kind of the gate attendant to try to arrange for passenger overnight accommodations and meals when Southwest screwed up.

  2. This is the most sensible post and explanation I have seen yet on this. As someone who spent the better part of the last two decades working in the airport, with almost all of it as airline management, I’ve seen this before, and you are correct in that WN was probably trying to get all those needing rebooking into one place where they could maximize resources – not tie up a gate agent who has other duties moving in to other flights that may still be operating. And many airports do consider it trespassing – I’ve used this though to remove people that I’ve denied boarding to for being drunk/belligerent/unruly who just won’t leave (like following the gate agent into the bathroom is going to really help their case), but I would hope the airline personnel would attempt some sort of rational explanation before defaulting to the police (sounds like WestJet had an incident the last couple days too where they called police before announcing a cancelation). Additionally, there are TSA regulations that come into play in that someone not holding a valid, vetted boarding pass for the current period has no place in the secure area.

  3. Pretty sure that you can hear from his accident that that security guard is a f-in muslim terrorist who hates Americans…

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