Cynthia Angel says she thought she was doing the right thing by speaking up after smelling what she thought was alcohol on her pilot's breath.
But instead of being treated as a hero, the California woman says she was vilified, kicked off her flight and forced to wait until the next morning to travel home.
"It was like I was the criminal. I was being escorted off the plane. It was extremely embarrassing. Everybody was staring, wondering what the heck is going on," Angel told ABC News. "Unfortunately, the message it sends is: don't stand up for yourself and don't question authority because you'll be the one treated poorly."
Angel, 51, says she was boarding a Delta Air Lines flight home from Atlanta on July 19 when something didn't seem right. The pilot passed her and a few other passengers as they were standing in the jetway making their way onto the plane. A man next to her said, "Did you smell that? It smelled like straight vodka?"
Two other passengers concurred, Angel said.
"It smelled like straight hard liquor, no doubt," she recalled.
Angel said she very quietly spoke with both a flight attendant and the co-pilot about her concerns. A few minutes later, she said a manager came onto the plane and asked her to step outside and talk.
"They were very assertive. I wouldn't say mean, but very assertive," Angel said.
She says she told the story again and the pilot was taken away for an evaluation.
She said several minutes later, the manager returned and escorted Angel and her carry-on luggage off the plane, took her to an office and explained that the pilot passed the tests, wasn't drinking and that he and his staff requested that she not be on his flight.
Angel said she can't understand why the crew didn't want her on the flight.
"I told no one around me. I kept very quiet about it," she said, adding that the Delta agents were "looking at me so stern, like I've committed some crime."
Delta says that Angel wasn't being so quiet.
"Airport customer service, in consultation with the flight crew, determined that because the passenger continued to express concern, even after the pilot was cleared, that it would be best to re-accommodate her on another flight," airline spokeswoman Susan Elliott said in an e-mail.
Passenger Says Pilot Smelled of Alcohol
Elliott said that Delta followed its policies and that the pilot was evaluated to see if he was impaired in anyway.
"Following the evaluation, the pilot was cleared for duty," she said, adding that "we took these allegations very seriously."
Angel said that Delta is wrong and that she was respectful and quiet at all times.
"That's a lie. A total lie," she said. "Once they told me he was cleared, I was like, 'wow, that's wonderful.'"
Delta ended up putting her up at a hotel and then placing her on the first flight out in the morning. She was given two $7 vouchers for meals. But the ones for dinner expired at 11 p.m. and she says she didn't get them until 11:15.
"I didn't even sleep. I was just beside myself," she said.
Her checked bags were kept on the plane to Los Angeles, leaving her without any toiletries overnight.
"Unfortunately, the message it sends is: don't stand up for yourself and don't question authority because you'll be the one treated poorly," Angel added. "I'm not a busybody. I felt like I was doing the right thing and I think it's a shame that I was treated the way I was for doing the right thing."
Now she has a lawyer and is seeking, at the very least, an apology from Delta.
"I was flabbergasted," said her lawyer, Mark J. Silverman. "If I was the pilot and that happened to me, I would walk up to her and thank her for her concern and get back into the cockpit and do my job. This guy obviously is about a 12-year-old emotionally."