Lady Wants Answers From Southwest After Husband Commits Suicide

This is a heartbreaking story, and actually raises an interesting “what would you do?” question.

Via The Consumerist:

In what can only be described as a tragic turn of events, a Wisconsin woman says that after she received a troubling text from her husband while on board a Southwest Airlines flight about to take off, she was told she couldn’t call him. When she arrived home, police informed her that her husband had taken his own life.

The woman says the alarming text came moments before her flight from New Orleans to Milwaukee was set to take off, when he sent a message asking her for forgiveness for committing suicide, reports WTMJ-4 News.

“I started shaking the minute I got the text and I was panicked, I didn’t know what to do,” she said, adding that she immediately replied “no,” and went to call him.

But a flight attendant making her final checks told her she had to turn her phone off or put it in airplane mode, and “slapped the phone down,” the passenger says.

When she explained the situation, the woman says the attendant told her it was “FAA regulations.”

After the flight reached cruising altitude she explained what was going on to another crewmember, saying she begged her to somehow get an emergency call out, but that that attendant also said there was nothing she could do.

And here’s a WTMJ-4 News video about it:

So to recap:

  • Her husband texted her while her flight was taxiing out to say he was going to commit suicide
  • The flight attendant told her to put her phone in airplane mode, per FAA regulations
  • Once at cruising altitude, the crew said there was nothing they could do to help, and the pilots were never informed of the situation

Certainly the suicide isn’t Southwest’s fault, and chances are nothing could be done either way. But at the same time I can’t help but wonder what I’d do in that situation:

  • She could have just disobeyed flight attendant instructions and the plane would have returned to the gate; whatever the punishment would have been would presumably be less significant than her husband committing suicide
  • The pilots absolutely could have contacted the ground once at cruising altitude to inform them of the situation; that being said, I get that this is a slippery slope, and crews are probably pretty jaded when it comes to issues not involving flight safety

Bottom line

While I don’t in any way think Southwest is liable for the situation, they certainly could have acted with more compassion, from the sound of it. If I were in a similar situation I would have probably disobeyed crew member instructions, even if it meant I was kicked off and the flight was met by authorities.

What would you do in a similar situation, and do you think Southwest handled the situation incorrectly?

Comments

  1. I would certainly have slapped the flight attendant back and desobeyed. I’d rather make the call and pay the fine, than having to live knowing that one call might have changed his mind…

  2. if she truly believed he was serious she would have simply disobeyed the crew instructions and called him. they acted according to the rules.

  3. If I got that message and an FA told me to turn off my phone, I would of course completely ignore him/her. Not sure why she didn’t immediately call 911.

  4. Really sad story and tough to put myself in her shoes. I guess I would have made any effort for the plane to return to the gate since it was still on the ground. I would deal with the penalties later. Again, tough call.

  5. This is a very sad story. While in a clear state of mind I can say I would have disobeyed the FA orders and (hopefully) forced the plane back to the gate, I can imagine that in her state of mind she may not have considered that as an option. Even though planes can actually turn around and taxi back to the gate, once the door shuts that possibility probably doesn’t occur to most people.

  6. If all I did was disobey the FA and make the call, southwest should count themselves lucky. I would have done whatever necessary to get off that flight including opening the airplane door while taxiing (pre-acceleration for take off).

  7. Even though there are regulations in place, I think the cabin crew must use their discretion; it’s not even as though making a call would put the flight in danger, it’s more that they want passengers to be alert in case of evacuation. Extremely unlikely that a telephone call could have any impact on the avionics of the aircraft

  8. like Ben said, just a tragic turn of events. No one is to blame. She was likely in shock, frozen from the text. Afterwards, with the flight or fight brain back under control, it’s easy to play Monday morning quarterback. I feel so much compassion for her loss; though I don’t agree with her going after Southwest, I sure as hell am in no position to judge her for it. It’ll play out without my two cents anyway.

  9. I guess I would have made any effort for the plane to return to the gate since it was still on the ground.

    She was on her way home to her husband in WI. She presumably wanted to be home ASAP. It was the call that she needed to make. I could see how she was weighing her options vs. not wanting to cause too much of a scene and risk returning to the gate or being diverted.

  10. With a clear mind I would have called the local police to do a welfare check or emailed them inflight if wifi was available.

    i can’t see how the airline is liable.

  11. Insensitivity is not a crime. But its morally reprehensible that they did not do something to help this woman. Shame on them. Bad PR is well deserved.

  12. Very strange for the husband to send his wife a text message before killing himself because it increased the likelihood that someone might intervene and foil his planned suicide. It was either cruel or a cry for help. If the latter, it would suggest a greater possibility that a call from his wife or a visit from the police might have prevented his death.

    The wife knows her husband and is presumably in the best position to assess what needs to be done. If she thinks she could have prevented his suicide, she should have disobeyed the flight attendant or created a big enough fuss so that the pilots would call for assistance or return the flight to the gate. But she would then have to suffer the consequences of her decision.

    To try to pin any responsibility for this on the crew for their actions in enforcing FAA regulations is completely unjustifiable. I don’t think the crew should be called upon to use discretion on who may make cell phone calls and under what circumstances. Imagine how many passengers would start making up excuses for making “just one more call” from the plane.

  13. I think there are people who wouldn’t confront authority because of certain weaknesses of their character. And chances are this lady isn’t familiar with air travel so didn’t know this could go other way. The flight attendant should be more thorough, helpful and considerate.

  14. So sad, and I’m sure she did the very best she could in that terrified moment. I would hope that I would do whatever necessary to contact the police and the person in danger, no matter what the cost. Getting kicked off the flight would have been a good thing in this case, though of course it may not have changed the tragic outcome.

  15. @John: I can read she was on her way home and she probably wanted to get there ASAP but what would you prefer: ignore the text and fly home knowing he was probably dead by the time you got there OR do whatever you could to get the attention of someone that could potentially reach to him before he killed himself? Assuming he was the one that sent her the text, he was still alive when he wrote those words. Thus, every second she waited without being able to notify someone about his intentions could have probably be the difference in letting him commit suicide or getting someone there to help. Nothing is guaranteed in life but I would do whatever possible and impossible to try to stop him and get very late at home but find him still alive.

  16. The husband purposefully declared his intent at a time when he knew his wife would not be able to do anything to stop him. Maximum punishment and cruelty dealt to the wife, his final f u to her. It’s his fault, not the FAs.

  17. Santastico,

    You’re certainly correct. Off the top of my head step 1 would have been to mass txt friends and family to advise them of the situation and get them to call 911 and drive over.

    But, much like the FAs need to scream at passengers to get out when the plane crashes otherwise many folks just sit there until they die of smoke inhalation – when you’re in such a panic situation you sometimes don’t think clearly.

  18. She could sue Southwest. While, her husband sucicide surely crash her heart and caused some kinds of psychology problem. She could claim it is caused by the way Southwest crew treat her and ask for compensation either from Southwest crew or the company of Southwest.
    The again, Southwest is not Singapore Airlines…. Southwest did handle it better than Singapore Airline… Checks Singapore’s record on how they handle passenger dead on airplane and you now why Singapore sucks….

  19. I would have told the FA “I am intentionally disobeying your instruction and will not stop.” That should be enough of a statement for them to take whatever action they think is necessary.

  20. Hey SW FA, spend a little less time honing your wise-cracking, lame comedic announcements and maybe spend more time polishing your listening, empathy and humanity skills.

  21. Aw, Chris, how nice of you to hijack a story just to air your grievances and dislike for a completely different airline.

  22. One phone call may have saved that man’s life. An aircraft can take on a bolt of lightning, I doubt a phone call will hurt the plane.

  23. Some of the comments here are so ridiculous. Everyone is so sure what they would or wouldn’t do in stressful situations, even though experience (and experiments!) show they have no freaking idea. And one guy is even certain about how seriously this woman was taking the situation by her actions. Unbelievable. I hope none of you what-a-normal-person-does-in-an-unimaginable-situation experts ever has to find out.

  24. She could suit for pain and suffering damages, but I doubt they could prove wrongful death against an airline. Nothing the wife or the airline caused or could have definitely prevented the death, but the flight crew definitely caused her unnecessary emotional distress that a psychologist or psychiatrist could testify to.

  25. Sorry but Southwest acted poorly here – in fact, they did not act at all. So much for corporate responsibility. Just because they followed protocol doesn’t mean they did the right thing. They need to take a long hard look at themselves.

  26. First of all, that’s awful. If I received a text like that, who cares about some stupid fine at that point? I would’ve disobeyed the rules. Didn’t they find out that cell phones really have no effect on planes anyway? Now she has to live with the fact that she might’ve been able to save her husbands life, but couldn’t. She’s probably thinking about “What if…” Not a situation I would want to be in at all.

  27. On a US carrier flight crew interference incidents can result in a felony conviction and up to 20 years’ imprisonment with fines of up to $250,000 per offense.

  28. People do try things on, but “my husband’s just told me he’s about to kill himself and I need to get emergency services there ASAP” is very unlikely to be a con. The cabin crew stuffed this up – fair enough they wouldn’t let her use her phone but they should have gotten the lady’s home address and informed the pilots straight away, so that they could make the call to emergency services to get first responders there to deal with the situation.

    The cabin crew seemed more intent on sticking to their script than using their brain – threats to life and limb, whether these threats come from or are directed inside or outside the cabin, must be taken seriously. It’s not compassion, it’s common sense.

  29. The spouse was robbed from the opportunity to have closure by the apathetic crew. Her grieving is now compounded by the agony of “what if”.

    I guess SNL could make a skit where one FA shows SWA corporate values by answering the pleading spouse:” Sounds like a personal problem hon. This obviously is my fault you mistook me for someone who cares.” Then the other FA:” Talk to the hand, ’cause my ears ain’t listening”.

  30. @ Dax — In theory, but under these circumstances I *highly& doubt she would have gotten 20 years of imprisonment and/or a fine of $250,000.

  31. If someone is going to commit suicide (and yes I have been there) then there are outward signs. Depression most likely. Why was she on a girls’ trip living it up in New Orleans in the first place?

  32. I am not surprised by the lack of compassion by Southwest but I do know personally that a call could have saved his life–even if just for a while. Southwest should be punished for this lack of compassion and morality. They should be more concerned with the people on the flight than their funny jokes and humor during flight. I’d rather be known as the compassionate airline than the cheap one that makes good jokes during the flight. Shame on Southwest. But I would say that this bad PR is enough of a punishment at this point.

  33. I hope the SERVERS on SW realize that they might have been able to save a life ,,, Sorry but the truth is the truth,, there lack of compassion will come back to haunt them and they should have escalated the problem to the pilot that would be the final decision

  34. Post 9/11 the flight crew have been overpowered by the government.
    Gross wrong goes on in the name of safety.
    This has to come to an end. These flight attendants are poorly qualified individuals, who have been overly empowered in the name of safety.
    Well educated and law abiding citizens have time and again suffered at the hands of these dummies because of this ridiculous empowerment of these ill educated idiots who are eager to abuse the powers vested on them, in the name of safety.
    No one has ever proved that use of cell phone will adversely affect the navigation or safe communication of the pilots. This is sheer bullshit and I speak being an ex radio officer and a marie Captain.
    Airlines should be strictly monitored for the wrong doing in the name of safety and security.
    This nonsense has gone too far and FAA has to regulate these ignorant stupid and ill informed flight attendants.

  35. These rules were put in place for a reason. It is unfortunate that her husband took his life. I think he waited until he knew she could do nothing to send her the text. There was not enough time to save him if she had been able to reach him. To blame the airlines for following the guidelines put in place by the FCC is not accurate.

  36. How could you possibly know whether she could have talked him out of it, or at least had local authorities go to him. Those flight attendants were heartless.

  37. Sorry. I would Have grabbed my phone and told the attendant to back off and started texting and demanding to get off the plane.Demanded to See the pilot and refuse to sit down. Texted family, and 911. I would have yelled it to the entire plane to help me.

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