Outrage expressed after WWII vet allegedly bumped from Honolulu-bound flight

Published: Dec. 5, 2013 at 10:08 AM HST|Updated: Dec. 6, 2013 at 11:19 PM HST
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Ewalt Shatz
Ewalt Shatz

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - UPDATE 12/6:

More fall-out on Facebook for United Airlines as word continues to spread after a World War II veteran was bumped from his flight to Oahu.

A United spokesperson says the airlines had no choice but to remove 41 passengers in order to add more fuel to make it through inclement weather from L-A to Honolulu Wednesday.

Hawaii News Now spoke with a pilot who flies Boeing 737's -- he says there are very strict weight restrictions for the aircraft and it's not uncommon for airlines to limit passengers and bags in order to meet safety regulations.

United would not provide specific details on how the 41 people who were pulled from the flight were selected but say a number of factors are taken into consideration, including the passenger's fare class, itinerary and check-in time.

90-year-old Ewalt Shatz says he explained to two desk agents and a supervisor that he was a WWII vet invited to attend a remembrance ceremony as a Pearl Harbor survivor.

He says he has macular degeneration, which makes it difficult for him to see and get around, so he says he was dropped off by a friend three hours prior to his flight's departure and was traveling by himself.

Even after United's explanation, word of Shatz's ordeal angered a lot of people who turned to social media to blast the airlines.

"I can assure you that using your airline in my lifetime will never happen. You should be ashamed of how you treated that man" -- one woman wrote on the company's Facebook page.

"You owe him and this country an apology" -- posted another man, identifying himself as a fellow veteran who will never fly with United again.


Outrage quickly went viral on social media, after word spread a World War II veteran was bumped from his flight to Oahu.  The 90-year-old Pearl Harbor survivor was on his way to Honolulu for a remembrance ceremony this Saturday.

Ewalt Shatz, or Walt as he says he likes to be called, is a World War II hero.  He was 18-years-old and on-board the USS Patterson when Pearl Harbor was attacked.  He has returned to Hawai'i several times since then.  Just last year he was honored for shooting down a Japanese plane while manning a 50-caliber machine gun for the first time.

Shatz was on his way to Hawai'i Wednesday when he was bumped from his United Airlines flight from Los Angeles to Honolulu because he was told the plane was overweight.

According to Shatz, he explained to United employees that he was on his way to a remembrance ceremony at the USS Arizona memorial to mark the 72nd anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, but still wasn't allowed to board.

"I thought that they just overbooked the deal and they were trying to get rid of a couple of customers and somebody had my seat -- and that's what made me mad, because I paid for that seat.  I paid for that seat and somebody else is sitting in it," said Shatz.

United Airlines issued the following statement to Hawaii News Now:

Thanks for reaching out. Inclement weather in the path of United flight 1226 required the flight to carry additional fuel and, as a result, reduce the number of passengers on board by 41. United agents in Los Angeles rebooked those customers, including Mr. Shatz, on the best available alternate flights on United and other airlines. We look forward to speaking with Mr. Shatz and the other affected customers. 

Shatz says an agent told him only two customers were pulled from the flight -- and the only other person he saw was a disabled man in a wheelchair.

Shatz says he hasn't heard from United since but never plans to travel with them again.

"I was surprised.  I didn't know which way to go.  Here I am at LAX with all these people and it's all new to me.  I was just lost I didn't know what to do which is an awful feeling," explained Shatz.  "They just left me kind of stranded.  Here I'm 90 years old, and I don't know -- I really didn't have anybody else I could call," described Shatz, who explained he doesn't drive so he was dropped off at the airport two and a half hours before his departure.

Shatz was rebooked on an American Airlines flight that left eight hours later with a layover on Maui.

He says fortunately, representatives from Hawaiian Airlines were waiting to escort him to his next flight which landed in Honolulu just before midnight.

"I'm happy now, all my troubles are over with I guess," Shatz said with a smile.

Word of his ordeal traveled quickly online -- and service members who heard about the situation managed to organize a last-minute welcoming party at the airport.

"Getting ready to put my khakis on and go greet a WWII vet (Pearl Harbor Survivor)... If you are on island and would like to come greet and honor this hero, come on out," Navy Chief Benjiman Scott wrote in part on his Facebook page.

71 people, most of them troops, showed up -- many of whom had gotten out of bed and put on their uniforms to greet Shatz with lei and share aloha for the man whose courageous actions on December 7, 1941 saved countless lives.

"Everybody wanted a picture with me and they were making out like I was hero, but I'm not really.  It was embarrassing in a way, but I liked it.  It was nice," Shatz described.

"This is why we're serving.  We're here to tell their story.  We're here to show our respect for them.  It's a tremendous honor and that's why we take it so serious.  Heritage is huge," said Chief Navy Counselor Rex Parmelee, who has hosted Shatz as a Pearl Harbor Survivor sponsor the last three years he has traveled to Hawaii.

Shatz says he has macular degeneration, which makes it difficult for him to see and get around -- especially when he's traveling alone as he was yesterday.  Shatz says without the kindness of strangers along the way and the hospitality from Hawaiian Airlines, who was waiting for him at the airport in Maui and put him in a First Class seat to Honolulu, he wouldn't have made it for the Pearl Harbor remembrance ceremony on Saturday.

Hawaiian Airlines issued this statement to Hawaii News Now:

Hawaiian Airlines was honored to have Mr. Shatz onboard from Maui yesterday evening and to have the opportunity to greet him with a warm Aloha welcome as he arrived in Honolulu to observe National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day. 

Dozens of upset individuals have taken to social media to express anger about the situation on United Airlines' Facebook page. Posts by many angry consumers on the United Airlines company page suggest that allegedly removing the man, said to be 90 years old and weighing 150 pounds, may not have been the best solution to the flight's weight issue.

"I am completely in shock that your airlines [sic] would bump off a 90 year old pearl harbor [sic] survivor and WW2 vet off one of your planes on his way to the Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day Ceremonies!" wrote Dorathy Bowler. "Is there no respect for what these men and women went through anymore!"

Shatz says he's overwhelmed with the response he's gotten, especially the attention he's receiving for his valiant efforts on December 7, 1941.  The Navy has credited him with shooting a Japanese plane.

"I don't know if I did or not, somebody said I did.  I fired a 50 caliber machine gun and it's possible I did shoot at some planes, but whether I hit any or not -- that's another story.  I don't take any credit for any of that," Shatz humbly said smiling.  "Whether I did or not, probably only God knows," Shatz added with a laugh.

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