An unidentified amateur photographer is suing American Airlines for defamation, false imprisonment and emotional distress, among other charges, stemming from an in-flight disturbance that allegedly began when another passenger mistook the man’s vintage camera equipment for an explosive device.
The incident, which resulted in the hasty evacuation of passengers and the man’s detainment by FBI agents, occurred on a flight from Indianapolis to New York’s La Guardia Airport on Oct. 9, 2021. According to the lawsuit, a female passenger with an infant seated next to the plaintiff treated her seatmate with suspicion for an extended portion of the flight, repeatedly leaving her assigned seat and attempting to move elsewhere on the aircraft — including while the seatbelt light was illuminated. At some point, the woman brought her concerns about the male passenger to flight attendants, whom the lawsuit states made no attempt to speak to the plaintiff, nor relocate either passenger to a new seat. The suit seeks $75,000 in restitution on behalf of the unidentified plaintiff.
“[N]o Defendant and no employee, agent, or contractor of Defendants’, spoke to Plaintiff at any time during the flight, not even for cabin service, because Plaintiff was sleeping or dozing for most of the flight,” the lawsuit states, adding that “instead of approaching Plaintiff and talking to him, asking what he had with him, moving Plaintiff away from the woman in 13F, and otherwise diffusing the situation, Defendants’ flight attendants sent the woman back to sit next to Plaintiff and asked her to spy on Plaintiff and report back to Defendants, instead of Defendants ascertaining the facts for themselves.”
Upon the aircraft’s descent into La Guardia, the plaintiff retrieved his camera from his bag to take a photograph of the New York City skyline, at which point the filing claims the woman — who had, yet again, moved to another seat — began yelling, “Don’t do it!” and “We’re dead!” at the man. The disturbance forced the plane to make an abrupt landing to immediately evacuate all passengers off the aircraft, upon which point the plaintiff was detained by emergency responders on the tarmac.
According to the filing, American Airlines employees on the flight would later tell the Federal Aviation Administration and other government officials that they believed the Plaintiff to be a threat because, according to the female passenger, he “had something dangerous,” “was timing the flight with a timing device,” “was texting pictures of bombs” and “was looking at pictures of bombs and how to put bombs together,” among other behaviors. However, court documents state the plaintiff only used his phone to set and subsequently turn off an alarm intended to wake him before the flight landed and that the female passenger eventually could not definitely say whether or not she saw suspicious photos or texts on the man’s phone.
Ultimately, the lawsuit states federal investigators found no evidence on the plaintiff’s iPhone or amongst his belongings to support the passenger’s statements to American Airlines’ flight crew — and, after a lengthy detention in which the filing claims the plaintiff was neither read his rights nor allowed a phone call, federal agents dropped the plaintiff off at a taxi stand in the middle of the night. American Airlines allegedly did not issue an apology to the detained passenger for his experience.
Footage of the plaintiff being detained on the tarmac upon arrival at La Guardia was shared to Twitter by a fellow passenger on the day of the flight. Local news reports initially deemed the incident involved “erratic behavior” and “a disruptive passenger.” The New York Times, citing air traffic control reports from the plane, stated at the time that the aircraft’s pilot told authorities on the ground “a person, a suspicious person, has an item that looks like an explosive device.” A Port Authority spokesman would later tell reporters that law enforcement “determined that there was no criminality on the part of the passenger and he was released.”
So the end of our flight got interesting pic.twitter.com/gdJSUUG906
— Laura (@lbrgdl) October 9, 2021
Despite the horrifying claims made in the filing, the lawsuit inexplicably opens with a bizarre allusion to Arthur Miller’s 1953 play The Crucible, before devolving into a sexist and baseless theory that the gender of the accusing passenger and flight attendants, rather than these individuals’ own paranoia and concerns, led to the allegations resulting in the plaintiff’s detention.
“Some research concludes instances of mass hysteria are more prominently experienced and spread by groups of women,” the lawsuit says, stating “mass hysteria events are a way of resistance” for women. The filing doubles down on the misogyny, writing “a female passenger started the false accusations” which “the flight attendants bought in and embellished the false claims convincing the 3 pilots on board, who could not be bothered to check out the facts.”
“The pilots and flight attendants escalated, embellished, and further exaggerated the unreal and invented threat,” the filing states. “The Defendants and their employees, contractors and agents caused the mass hysteria event that egregiously, and without any evidence, harmed [the plaintiff].”