American Airlines Faces Sharp Attack From Family Of Fallen Marine Over Handling Of His Angel Flight

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 US 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?

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