Trial set for United Airlines pilot’s assault against Denver gate agent

Trial is set next month for a United Airlines pilot who was arrested after pushing a gate agent at Denver International Airport last December. Captain John Rood allegedly became irate when the agent refused to allow a jump seater’s luggage from being stored inside the cockpit where they would be sitting. The unnamed person fell scraping his finger and when a police officer arrived at the gate, they stated Mr. Rood was “highly agitated and uncooperative” refusing to provide information. United called in a relief pilot after Mr. Rood’s arrest.

Now, I can easily visualize this scenario and imagine just how heated with adrenaline the pilot must have been. While his actions were severe and his inability to calm himself in the heat of the moment is inexcusable, I understand the principal of his argument. As Scott Rickenberger, pilot and GM of Journeys Aviation in Colorado told Colorado 9 News, “The captain, or the pilot in command, is ultimately responsible for that aircraft. And he has the final say on what goes in his aircraft.” I would have to assume, then, he also has final say of where in the cabin & cockpit things are stored.

According to the article, fellow pilots sympathizing with Mr. Rood have gone as far as posting the agent-in-question’s name and ID info on aviation-related websites & encouraging slowdowns when flying out of his gate. I hate to hear of this kind of retaliation, but I suppose it’s to be expected. Politics are politics no matter where you work and at all levels of professionalism.

It’s my opinion that both parties were wrong. While I sympathize with gate agents and their need to gate check passenger bags that REALLY can’t fit, he overstepped his authority for an OMC (Observer Member of the Crew) flyer. And there’s of course no doubt the pilot acted egregiously.

My prediction for the outcome is that the pilot will be required to complete some type of counseling & anger management program, and told to have no contact with the gate agent in the future. Assuming he complies with all of the court’s requirements, he’ll avoid further jail time & likely continue flying for United Airlines. So what’s your opinion?


  1. My first thought is that this altercation took place in front of the flying public. What an awful representation of United by the pilot. I do agree that the pilot and agent were both wrong. And it was inexcusable that fellow pilots are trying to destroy the reputation of the agent who was trying to do his/her job under the guidelines. The passengers who witnessed the altercation could likely change their airline allegiance. We’re seeing increasingly too much inappropriate behavior in the workplace everywhere, at all levels. On a separate note: great job on the new look for your website!

  2. Flying is a serious business, especially if you’re the guy driving. Piloting requires 110% of your concentration and for safety reasons you have to be “on your game” every time you step into the cockpit, all pilots are taught “if you’ve had a row with you wife/husband then you should think carefully as to whether you should be piloting”.

    I see two issues not one.

    1. EVERYONE should be working toward making the aircraft as safe as possible. Apparently the CSR over stepped his authority, undermined the Captain’s authority and compromised his emotional state.

    The captain did a very brave thing to excuse himself. Didn’t anyone apart from the Captain know the regulations and understand that the Captain was likely “getting his game head on” by asserting the authority that regulations grant him. The responsibilities of a Captain as the Pilot In Command are very “Black and White”, so is his authority.

    2. The police escalated the incident instead of calming things down. Clearly this was a minor incident where the police should have separated the antagonists and left it at that. Didn’t the police ask anyone “is he allow to take the bag on board”? Surly one of the CSR supervisors could have spoken up and said “yes the captain has the authority to take the bag on board”?.

    Ultimately the Captain stepped up and put safety first and is now being punished for it. I wonder if a future Captains will decline to “assert their authority because of this incident”.

    • Hi Mike,

      Thanks for stopping by & sharing your opinion. I absolutely agree everyone should be ensuring the safety of the aircraft and passengers & crew. As far as how the police intervened… without having been there, we have to rely on the events as they are reported by the news, and perhaps we’ll get a clearer picture once the trial begins. I’m not so certain the police were the instigators of escalation. Also, I can guarantee captains will continue to use their authority as needed. This event won’t deter pilots from speaking up. Again, though, you’re spot on about how the PIC & captain have ultimate control of the aircraft and its contents.

  3. The agent was completely wrong. What is the matter with him that he would throw the other pilot’s bag, the deadheading one, down the steps when the captain told him it was OK to put it in the cockpit. If it had been me, the airplane would have sat there until the bag was stowed in the cockpit like the captain said it could be. The agent is the one that needs anger management training or better yet, be fired. He was completely wrong. Back in the old days, he might have gotten a fist sandwich as well.

  4. Problem is many gate agents think that the airplane is theirs when it is on the gate and their rude mentality extends to the crews as well. Gate agents forget the title of their position “Customer Service Representative” not commander or officer! However they try to play the part. I don’t agree that the captain dealt with this matter in the best way, but he was in the right by exercising his authority. I also agree the better way would have been to inform the gate agent the aircraft would not move until the bag was returned and never should overstep the captains authority again. Putting a deadheading pilots bag in the cargo hold as a checked bag causes many problems not just for the pilot but also for the system. If the pilot is due to work another segment and he has to go claim his bag it could delay his next flight and cause undue stress. This is something the gate agent should know and he should have known the captain has final authority, not the gate agent!

  5. although in pushing the agent or otherwise touching him/her the pilot set himself up and that everyone has to work towards a secure flight, im not aware of the hierarchy when it comes to things getting thru the gate, so i dont know if the agent was just doing his/her job. after saying this, i DO know that many agents are AWFULLY RUDE towards the passengers and dont do their job of providing good customer service as per guidelines. i have been tempted in stepping in by offering to be a witness when i see their rudeness crosses the line in providing a due service to a fellow passenger although stranger. i seriously think a lawsuit needs to happen against those trolls that do not deserve to be working at the gate as oppose as the agents who do a great job.

    • Yes, there are definitely some rude and evil gate agents. I had one agent switch my seat deliberately at the gate because I mentioned to the passenger ahead of me in line that the agent appeared available and you might approach them. Although I couldn’t hear their conversation, I knew he mentioned my “pushy” suggestion and when it was my turn, the agent said, “Oh Mr. Booth, it looks like your seat changed. I’m so sorry.” Nothing I could do about it! On the other hand, there are stellar gate agents of course, but it’s the rude ones that really leave a lasting impression.

  6. Please give me a break, giving gate agent a bad name. As one even for regular customer i tried my best to make sure everyone carry on is with them. On the other hands most crew members are a bunch of rude people except when they are flying out. The pilots think they are God, cant even say good morning. While some of us depending on our shift safeguard the aircraft overnight for them while they are sleeping at their hotel, the least they can do is to show some respect for the type of job we do. Beside dealing with them in leass than one hour we have to listen to all type of insult from customers, imagine doing it for 8 hours. While most of the crew come in get the paperwork and be on their way. Again give me a break.

    • @lovely: Having worked in an 8+ hour/day customer-facing position, I do feel for you and the incredible diversity of personalities you have to manage every day. I bet there are just as many rude co-workers (as Jeff likes to call them) as there are customers. Thanks for your comment… I hope situations like what happened in this post are avoided in the future.

  7. I am sure that it is the gate agent responsibility to ensure baggage compliance. Offline OMC passengers are not exempt from the carry on baggage allowance.
    It is not stated that the captain is to overide the CSR decisions to ensure compliance, and the captain’s actions directly undermined the gate agent’s efforts to follow SOP.
    Gate agents work hard at trying to get the gate area and boarding working according to plan, and this sometimes means making decisions that won’t please everybody all the time.
    I have encountered many pilots who claimed to know everything about what the CSR is doing wrong, but not actually knowing a thing about circumstances.
    Come on pilots, mind your own business.

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