My name is Dr. Rumya Putcha. I was recently a passenger on a Lufthansa flight from Frankfurt to Bangalore on July 3, 2018.
When I boarded and took my seat, there was an Indian couple seated across the aisle. The gentleman, whose left foot was in a cast, was seated in the aisle seat. I noted that the head flight attendant, M. Arnberg, was speaking with these two passengers with great concentration. She was kneeling in the aisle and reading over medical documents the passengers handed her, while carefully examining the cast on the man’s left leg.
As we all settled into our seats, a Lufthansa employee (his badge read “Flight Manager”) K. Worrins, approached the passengers, and without so much as an acknowledgement or apology, he loudly informed them they must leave the flight. The passengers understandably protested—this was the same man who had cleared them to board at the gate. The pilot joined the conversation and behaved with an equal lack of compassion or care, further escalating the situation and threatening police action.
The situation continued to be fueled by these two men and their egos. Both behaved with zero regard for the passengers’ situation and an utter lack of compassion. This passenger was injured and disabled! I began recording the episode on my phone because I wanted to be able to document how deeply disturbing the behavior and words of your staff were. K. Worrins realized I was recording, approached me, and threatened to have me arrested or removed from the flight. In fear and in ignorance of my rights (I am not familiar with the rules around recording on flights and he chillingly cited “German law”) I obliged. He stood over me, insisted that I delete the video while he watched, and when I did, he walked away. At this point, another passenger commented on how inappropriately the staff was behaving, so Worrins then returned to threaten me, belittle me, and insist I delete the videos from the trash bin (a step I was unfamiliar with). He took my phone from me and deleted more items. I was left shaking and terrified for the next 9 hours from this entire ordeal.
Now, I would never have felt the need to record if the pilot and Worrins had not behaved in such a dramatic manner. Neither man seemed to want to deescalate the situation, which would have been easily accomplished by reassuring the passengers that Lufthansa would be paying for them to stay in a hotel and they would be rebooked once medical clearance was provided. I want to reiterate—I only recorded for the purposes of sharing this video with those who can and should take action against these two individuals, Worrins and the pilot.
The behavior I witnessed and recorded was unprofessional and shockingly disrespectful. At the very least, I deserve an apology. Worrins went out of his way to frighten and intimidate me. He behaved in a manner that was physically menacing and one of your flight attendants (she was Indian) scoffed afterwards that it could be worse, at least no one was “beaten up.” I refuse to applaud your staff for not engaging in physical violence.
Worrins behaved in a similar manner towards the passengers he removed from the flight. He was condescending and treated these two people like they were dirt on his shoe. I can appreciate the situation at hand, we were running late, but as M. Arnberg confided in me, Worrins knew he was at fault. He never should have let this man board if the cast was such a concern. It was his error that caused this entire fiasco and he behaved as though it was their fault or mine for trying to help them. Arnberg saw very clearly that Worrins unleashed his frustration on me. She later admitted she was worried about me when she saw him treating me this way.
More than anything else, I was deeply disturbed by the lack of respect and regard shown for these two passengers. The man had a broken leg, his wife was a doctor. No one seemed to be listening to them at all. She repeatedly tried to offer a solution that would allow them to remain on board—she would simply remove the cast—but no one listened to her.
As an academic who studies these issues, this entire episode was a painful reminder of how White supremacy endures. Your staff, especially Worrins and the pilot, behaved in a patronizing and deeply inhumane manner towards these two Indian customers. Indeed, the other passengers and I wondered to each other after the drama subsided if your staff would have ever spoken to a White/European couple this way. I find citing “privacy laws” (for this was the excuse for Worrins behavior) a fascinating and rhetorical sleight of hand; one I will be studying and writing about in my next post.
I would appreciate an apology and I do hope you, Lufthansa, have already apologized to that poor couple. My heart broke for the woman as she sobbed while being escorted off the plane. I, for one, do not feel safe flying with you anymore.
I am working with a forensic data recovery specialist now and will send along the videos as soon as we can recover them.
This evening I was contacted by the couple I described above. It turns out the flight had been overbooked and the interrogation about the cast began only AFTER the flight attendants realized two sets of people had been assigned the same seat numbers.
But here’s the real kicker (pun intended):
The couple flew the next day, on the same flight, with the same cast. No one blinked an eye. There were no histrionics about the leg swelling or the cast being the “wrong kind.”
Simply put, the entire ordeal, up to and including the feigned concern about the cast by M. Arnberg was all a giant ruse to gaslight this couple and then me.
I have heard many stories of airlines behaving unconscionably and with impunity, but the lengths they went to in order to silence me when I saw what was happening is not something I will forgive or forget any time soon.
I’m grateful for the power of social media in bringing survivors of racism and abuse together in solidarity. I felt so alone and ashamed the past few days as I relived the trauma of that vengeful, bully of a man standing over me, threatening to arrest me for doing what I knew I would want someone to do for me if I was in their shoes. Like so many victims, I blamed myself for not fighting back harder, for “letting” him win. But after speaking with this couple and their daughter-in-law, I don’t feel alone or ashamed any more.
I hope all of you reading this will join me in boycotting Lufthansa.