A military family from West Virginia is calling for a boycott against American Airlines, asserting that a series of missteps marred a critical moment in which the remains of their deceased U.S. Marine son were transferred to Pittsburgh.
Military Family Calls For Boycott Of American Airlines, Blaming Poor Treatment In Receiving Fallen Marine
Here’s a rundown of what happened:
- Private First Class Zach Riffle was killed in a car accident in North Carolina on January 19, 2022
- His remains were transported on American Airlines from Camp Lejeune to Pittsburgh (PIT) on a trio of American Airlines flights
- During a long layover from 9:00am to 5:00pm in Charlotte (CLT), Riffle’s escorts remained by the body in AA’s cargo terminal and were not offered anything to eat
- When Riffle’s family showed up at PIT, their request to step onto the tarmac to watch the arrival of AA2738 was denied, citing a staffing shortage and tightened COVID-19 polices
- Instead, the family was escorted into a “very small “ break room and told to wait
- The family contacted a Marine liaison, who was also unable to convince AA to let the family onto the tarmac
- The family then requested that an American Airlines employee record the landing of the aircraft and removal of the casket
- Their request was denied: a supervisor explained that an employee with that footage could share it inappropriately
- The family signed a waiver of liability and the phone of one of the escorts was given to an employee to video the deboarding of the casket
- No announcement was made onboard during the CLT-PIT flight concerning Zach onboard
- Finally, the family was escorted to cargo terminal where they were able to receive Zach “alongside of other boxes and crates” and the Mraines performed a short ceremony
- The family is now urging others to boycott American Airlines
An American Airlines spokesperson said:
“We are committed to honoring our fallen heroes. We are sorry we fell short of the family’s expectations and are reviewing the matter internally. A senior member of our team has reached out to Pfc Zachary Riffle’s family to express our condolences and hear more about their experience.”
The spokesperson further acknowledged that the family was not permitted to watch the aircraft land or the casket deplaned, noting “a number of ramp escorts were needed to accompany a large group to observe the dignified transfer on the ramp, and unfortunately, that was not able to be accommodated.”
This is obviously a sad story for the Riffle family: to lose a son at such a young age is heartbreaking. While it isn’t clear how many family members showed up at the airport, this is one of those situations where it seems to me you don’t let the rules overrule common sense. Issue them gate passes, screen the family, then bring them to the tarmac…for crying out loud, what are we afraid of?
I get that airlines are suffering staffing shortages and you can’t just leave a group unintended on a tarmac, but a little empathy would have gone a long way. This is indeed a moment that cannot be re-created. Plus, it seems like they were eventually escorted to the cargo terminal. Why not just take them from the cargo terminal onto the tarmac?
That said, I think calling for a boycott of American Airlines is a bit much. There were a series of unfortunate missteps, but I don’t see malicious intent in any of them. While I think stepping out on the tarmac to watch the unloading of the casket is reasonable and justified, it isn’t clear if AA even owes the family apology for this – it would certainly have been a nice gesture, but it is not clear if the family had a reasonable expectation in the first place.
A family of a fallen Maine has urged for a boycott against American Airlines. They say AA mishandled the final flight of their deceased son. American Airlines says it is looking into the incident, meant no harm, and staffing issues prohibited the family from stepping onto the tarmac to watch the casket being unloaded from the aircraft.
How much blame does American Airlines share for this incident? Is the family right to urge a boycott?
I have boycotted American for nearly 10 years, after witnessing a flight attendant harass a young female soldier, who was trying to fit her duffle bag in the overhead. She brought the young woman to tears and then had the captain come back and threaten to remove her if she did not calm down. It was really unnecessary.
Unfortunately, liability lawsuits have lead to the utter shredding of whatever as left of common sense. Letting a group of people on a tarmac was just not going to happen in this day and age.
The biggest issue is why an 8-hour delay is needed to get to PIT!?
Ohhhh Covid used again to blame for laziness and incompetence. RIP. Thank you for your services.
What about the NYPD officer that died and all the police officers from far and wide came to play respects. All the f%^ks feel generous in taxpayer dime. They wouldn’t show up if they had to lose a vacation day for it. And they closed down all the streets for it. Bloody posers. All of them.
In this case the family is being unreasonable. Things didn’t go the way they wanted but nothing was done to disrespect the marine.
Wow, the hatred and vitriol some posting here have towards our service and police personnel. SMH. Sad.
Stop acting like the law doesn’t apply to you if you are in law enforcement. And dont BS that you go in law enforcement for service. The nice pay/ benefits must just be a coincidence. MBA schools should take marketing lessons from police unions.
Thank you Tee Jay. I was thinking the same thing! And for the ones saying, “It’s not a big deal that they didn’t get to go on the tarmac.” It’s a huge deal! That is their son who served our country and paid the ultimate price!! That is a moment in their lives they don’t get to replay, and respect to the soldier. I seriously don’t think they were going to do anything wrong! God bless you Sir and Thank you for your service RIP MUCH RESPECT. You should be ashamed AA!!!
Palmolive softens hands while you do dishes.
You’re soaking in it.
What are Mraines?
I think you mean “ramp”. Not tarmac.
Frankly, while I feel sorry for the family, I dont think AA did anything wrong here and really not sure why they wanted exemptions for what they were asking for, nor why they expected somebody to make an announcement on the flight that the airplane was transporting the soldier. I’m a bit confused by all the expectations surrounding this event.
Also, was this person killed in combat? While on duty or something? I dont get why they expected all this special treatment, especially if the person was just on a random drive in North Carolina unrelated to their position in the marines.
All Active Duty Service Members are entitled to full military honors upon passing while serving, regardless of the circumstances in which they died.
Retired Service Members are entitled to the same honors.
“are entitled to full military honors”
But what does that mean. I think it means playing taps. And getting the flag on the coffin. Does it being able to go on the tarmac?
I don’t think what this family wanted comes under full military honors.
No, the tarmac part does not, as that has nothing to do with the military.
Full military honors means, transportation of remains from last duty assignment to final resting place, military escort for said remains, chaplin on call to immediate family, funeral honor detail which includes pallbearers, a bugler (where available), and rifle team (where available). The minimum manning requirement is 2 uniformed representatives from the same branch of service as the deceased. This is a federal law. So, no, you’re are right in stating that AA has no obligation under federal law other than the assisting in the respectful transportation of the remains. And it is the escort’s responsibility to ensure that the remains are respected and remain dignified at all times.
Thank you for clarifying Tom. I thought all of that was suppose to be done for all military, as I have seen it before where family is out on Tarmac for the landing of plane and removal of casket. I still think AA could of made things better for the family dealing with the loss of their son. Nowadays it seems people, businesses do as little as possible and don’t show they care or anything! No compassion or extra effort. I just don’t get it! It’s very sad.
Debit yes it does! What the family expected should of been done as it is done for ALL military. Why are you so upset over this? If it were one of your family members and certain things were to be expected and were not, wouldn’t you be upset?! Especially the passing of your child and at such a young age!
Interesting- I didn’t know
While sorry for their loss, this family is being ridiculous…clear case of people using a sad situation to get their 15 minutes. AA didn’t do anything wrong here. These are damned if you do, damned if you don’t times for companies. Everyone is looking to sue and complain for the slightest reason. Boycott, really? They just want money or some form of compensation from AA, right? So sad a family would use this death to get attention.
And you Blair – so you’re going to boycott an entire company because of the actions of one employee 110 years ago? You think all the AA employees and corporate office got together and agreed to harass this woman? Where do you work – if someone who worked somewhere in your company made a mistake on the job should you be held accountable for it along with every other employee? Can be just assign blame to individuals? Why not just write AA and tell them they have a bad apple? Instead, you’re going to be lazy and say you’re boycotting the company because one employee did something wrong (went rouge so to speak as I’m sure AA doesn’t have a policy in place to harass soldiers) while the responsible thing to do if you really cared would be to report the employee. You’re welcome to by synical and say the complaint would go nowhere, but your 10 year boycott hasn’t brought down AA or done anything to fix the problem you witnessed. Thanks again for your anecdotal story about how you witnessed something you thought was wrong and did nothing to make the actual person responsible, but instead condemned all 100,000 AA employees. I thought we were at a point in our society where we didn’t judge entire groups of people based on the actions of one member.
I was wondering if American Airlines could sink any lower. Now I have my answer. I will never again travel aboard any of their aircraft.
From time to time in life, you come across situations that you just have to make work regardless of the problems they may cause or the ‘rules’ that might be in place. As a doc who has dealt with a fair share of tragic deaths over the years, I perhaps know what you have to do better than many. This was one of the situations that had to ne made work. Big fail to American Airlines at every turn, heads should roll.
My sympathy and good wishes to the Riffle family.
I think the family is being very entitled.
1) It’s a cargo flight, who would the pilot even announce to?
2) He was in a car accident in North Carolina, which as far as I’m aware is not an active conflict zone. Sounds like he passed away while also being a marine. There are millions of active and ex-military member, so at least dozens would die everyday for reasons unrelated to them being a military member. It’s unreasonable to expect white gloves treatment everywhere.
3) The staff shortage is real, would they rather AA just not transport the body because they don’t have enough staffs for special treatment?
4) Not sure why they were surprised that their son’s casket traveled along with boxes ad craters? Maybe go after the military for not chartering the entire plane?
AA2738 is not a cargo flight, it is a regularly scheduled passenger flight. Having seen many of these angel flights, the right and proper thing to do, which is done 99.999% of the time, is to offload the casket first, do a brief, 2 minute thing, and then offload the rest of the plane’s boxes etc.
Hmm… Im a bit conflicted here. On one hand, it sounds like this family watched “Taking Chance” (starring Kevin Bacon) and felt that the on film experience should mirror their own. This doesnt sit well with me because, while the family is the one who have suffered a loss, it is the memory and service of the fallen Service Member that should be honored. NOT the personal sentiments of the family. A simple way to ascertain if what you’re asking for meets this objective, ask the question: “Is this what [the Service Member] would want?” If it’s a “no”, you’re not honoring their sacrifice or their memory, and instead, you are acting in your own self interest.
I got to witness all of this first hand, when one of my Soldiers passed away under similar circumstances a year ago. The family (split between my Soldier’s biological parents, and the family of his surviving wife) all had their own alterior motives, often at the detriment of the other. Caught in the middle was his Army family; the Soldiers who served with him and were responsible for him. It was our responsibility to ensure his memory and his service was respected, and honored. I dont feel the family is entitled to anything that contradicts this.
So on one hand, I feel for the family’s loss and that everything should be done to honor this Marine’s service and memory. But on the other, Im not sure they were doing that by expressing such entitlement to expected services that might not have been in the interest of their Marine.
For everyone’s information , this Marine and several others died on a training mission at Camp Lejune. So let’s get the facts straight .The truck they were riding in ran off the road on a curve and rolled down a bank.
Also a number of other Marines were seriously injured.
As far as AA is concerned , the quality of people now working for them has hit a new low. They simply don’t care and use Covid as the excuse for everything these days. Their customer service is horrendous.
The family should have been allowed to view the coffin being removed from the cargo hold and the plane’s staff should be reminded of the proper procedure when transporting a deceased member of the US military.
All it would have taken was for American Airlines to contact the Air Marshals at the airport and explain the situation. I am sure that accommodations could have and would have been made.
Thank you Robert for giving us the true facts. I wish that things could of been done differently for the family and the fallen Marine. I hope the Marines that were seriously injured are ok? God Bless and Much Respect to our Men and Women who serve.
My unintentional lifetime boycott continues
This is such a quintessentially American problem, with an extra dose of military obsession. Don’t get me wrong, I deeply respect people serving in the armed forces, but in the US it’s always over the top. “Our fallen heros”. Sure.
This is basically one family not having the red carpet thrown out for them and putting up a hissy fit. I mean seriously, “no announcement was made that he was on board” oh my god forgive me but who the fuck cares lol.
Perhaps contact White House for Air Force charter specifically for our soldier
Thanks for his service
“Fallen Marine?” That’s a stretch…a long one.
What a joke. The guy died in a car accident. He’s not a fallen marine just unlucky.
It was a military training accident and he was not the driver! It was NOT a regular car accident. And his remains should have been unloaded first. Whenever there are human remains in the cargo hold the Military escorts or the family members are usually allowed to deplane first.
The family demanding special treatment here is so entitled and ridiculous. No self-respecting Marine would ever expect this kind of hero worship and special treatment, i dont know why the family insists on making it a spectacle.
I’ve been on several recent flights where the airline did a nice job of respecting the fallen with may crew on the ground to receive the remains, American flags held by all. Either a salute or hand on the heart. Overhead announcement also made on the flights. Hopefully this was an anomaly. I’m glad the airline is reaching out. For this particular family, it doesn’t matter if American got it right on other instances.
To all these people going off about the family being entitled or irrational: lose your child at age 18 and let’s see how rational and calm you are about it.
You are exactly right Sir! I was thinking the same thing. Some of the comments are very rude. I don’t think the family was asking for too much. People just don’t care anymore just mean! Nobody wants to put a little xtra effort to show they actually care or work just a little bit harder to help a family especially when they are going through the loss of a child! The new thing these days is use the Covid and short staffed thing when in reality it’s pure laziness and just don’t give a damn!! So sad!
This was not a combat death. This was a training accident and the family is being unbelievably ridiculous. Not everyone is a “hero” but the remains should be respectfully transferred. If the guy had died in combat then I’m all in on the family’s demands but this guy died in a vehicle accident, on post, while training. Not a hero. Not entitled to special treatment. The family needs to chill because no service member would’ve wanted their family to act this way.