American Airlines Called the Police on a ‘Trump-Supporting’ Doctor. Was This Necessary?

Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek. 

Have you heard the one about the airline calling the police on a customer?

Well, this is a new one, and it’s one that may provoke varying reactions.

On Thursday, Florida-based doctor Jeffrey Epstein seemed to become frustrated while waiting at American Airlines check-in at Orlando International Airport. He was on his way to Philadelphia.

Video posted to Facebook by WESH 2 News shows him standing and expressing some of those frustrations.

Sadly, things then veered in a difficult direction, ending with 59-year-old Epstein handcuffed, on the ground and pepper-sprayed by the police.

The airline had deemed him so disruptive that it called the police. And then, well, you never know how things will go from there.

The police first try to talk to him. But then they move in to make an arrest and it becomes a little ugly. 

Epstein told WESH 2 that he made a deliberate protest to highlight police brutality:

“I’m a conservative Republican, I’m a Trump guy. But until the police fix this problem, I don’t blame black people for being upset when they get arrested.”

Some might say, though, that his behavior may have been a touch provocative. He did say to the officers: “Arrest me or get a flight.”

I asked American Airlines for its view of the encounter with Epstein. A spokesperson told me: 

He showed up at the ticket counter to check-in for his flight at 6 a.m. for a 6.24 a.m. flight. Our team was going to rebook him for the next available flight to Philadelphia, but that is when he became irate at our team, along with other passengers and children in the area who witnessed this event.

Epstein, though, insists he was offering something of a public service. He told WESH 2:

I was no danger. I was being loud because I wanted everyone to see. I wanted everything to be out in the open. Big companies have to take care of their customers, and when they call the cops in, they got to deescalate, not escalate.

Customer service is, indeed, not about escalating conflict. What, though, should American Airlines personnel have done?

If, as the airline says, he checked in too late, would Epstein not have realized his alleged faux-pas? Or did he just, for some unaccountable reason, choose to be disruptive?

As you watch the video, you wonder whether there might have been another way to calm him down. Perhaps, though, his behavior was so upsetting to children that the police had to be called.

But as he made his speech to the airport in general, did the police provoke him further?

I looked at the police report, written by Officer Chaplin, and it reads, in part:

Epstein then became angry again and started yelling. I told Epstein to leave the line so that we could try to talk to him and calm him again. After leaving the line, Epstein continued to yell profanities and other remarks about AA business practices. I continued to try to calm Epstein down, but he would not. Epstein took off his backpack put his hands in the air and said to arrest him. I noticed white froth around Epstein’s lips and asked him if he was having an issue. This made Epstein even angrier, and he denied anything was wrong.

Here, though, one wonders what sort of tone characterized Epstein’s original conversation with the check-in agent.

That might hold a clue as to what happened subsequently.

In a subsequent comment, American Airlines clarified that its staff had had minimal and entirely non-confrontational interaction with Epstein: 

The only interaction our staff had with him is we requested he wait to speak to an agent to be placed on standby for the 7:20 a.m. flight to PHL. That flight was not full, and he would have gotten on. At that point, he began yelling at our team members and customers. We didn’t have any other interaction with him beyond letting him know he would have to be placed on standby for the 7:20 a.m. flight, as he missed the 6:24 a.m. flight.

Epstein has been charged with battery on a law enforcement officer, resisting officer with violence, trespassing after warning, and disorderly conduct.

Still, though, the police themselves seemed not in complete harmony as to how Epstein should be calmed.

Chaplin’s report also reveals: 

At some point Officer Hajek warned Epstein he was going to be sprayed with OC. I told Officer Hajek we should keep working to get the arms out. I directed Corporal Tindall to control the legs. I noticed an odor of OC spray; looked over and realized Officer Hajek had sprayed Epstein with OC spray.

Again, this might seem like an example of customer service and law enforcement struggling with judgment. And, perhaps, who can blame them?

There may not have been a good solution here. The American Airlines check-in staff perhaps had neither the time nor the inclination to deal with Epstein and were stunned at his behavior. His bizarre rantings while on the floor suggest an unexplained peculiarity. 

The police, too, weren’t entirely sure of the best way to deal with the situation.

People can be damnably difficult sometimes.

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