Should an Emergency Telephone Call Delay a Flight?

“…g etting ready to push back but my seat mate is on his phone. FA sees him and says the plane won’t leave with him on the phone. He says it’s an emergency phone call, so they offer to let him off. ‘Just hang on, I’ll be done in a few minutes.’ FA asks if it’s an emergency then he needs to get off the plane or deal with it when we land. This continues for a few minutes, then the guy in the row behind us starts talking about how has been flying on Delta for 40 years, and I need to leave right now to make my meeting.”

This situation was witnessed by FlyerTalk member sig05 during a recent flight; and it launched a debate amongst FlyerTalk members.

Should an Emergency Telephone Call Delay a Flight?

“This reminds me of the incident (and lawsuit) about WN demanding that a passenger get off the phone instantly when she was trying to talk her husband out of committing suicide”, posted FlyerTalk memher MSPeconomist. “FAs could well feel a bit gun-shy about demanding that the phone be turned off immediately as soon as the person claims it’s an emergency.”

FlyerTalk member jsk1973 argued, “Maybe, but if it’s really that type of emergency, the person shouldn’t still be sitting in the seat.”

The response from MSPeconomist was “Maybe, but staying on the flight could get the passenger back to the dying relative or whatever ASAP versus deplaning to finish the conversation and at best hoping to get space on the next flight. It could be a very difficult dilemma to face at a difficult time.”

The flight attendant was ready to open the exit door for the passenger to get him off of the airplane if he did not hang up from his telephone call, according to sig05 — although no one on FlyerTalk knows exactly what is the emergency — and she asked several times if the passenger needed to stay or go. No one apparently asked; and the passenger in question never shared what was the emergency. “I have no clue what the emergency was and whether it was/was not justified. I won’t speculate on that point, but I thought it was interesting that no explanation was given, then the 40-year flyer chimed in that we needed to leave so he could make his meeting.”


During normal operations, employees of an airline — especially gate agents — are under pressure to ensure that an airplane departs on time for its flight.

When an emergency occurs for a passenger, however, the delay of a flight is automatic — especially when the passenger is experiencing a heart attack, for example. Fortunately, flight attendants are experienced with dealing with emergency situations such as those first-hand

…but does an emergency via telephone of which a passenger aboard an airplane is involved justify the delay of a flight which results in the inconvenience of fellow passengers — and does it depend on the specific situation which can be considered an emergency? If so, should there be a limit on that delay? Have you experienced such as situation first-hand?

What are your thoughts?

Photograph ©2008 by Brian Cohen.

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