Passenger Kicked Off Spirit Airlines Flight Due To… Paranoia

There’s no denying that we live in terrifying times, when you look at what’s going on in the world right now. At the same time, the speed at which people get news and the impact of social media amplify what’s happening in the world even more. Which isn’t at all to downplay anything which is going on, but I’m not actually convinced we’re any worse off now than in the past, when you look at the atrocities which have occurred over the past hundred years, thousand years, etc.

All of which is to say we have to keep living our lives, as easy as it is to get paranoid…

…like many people clearly were on a Spirit Airlines flight this Tuesday morning between Baltimore and Chicago, which returned to the gate.


What happened? Well, here’s the reaction of the event from one of the passengers who was onboard, via WBALTV11:

“I started praying to God, like, I literally thought that plane was going to blow up. It was the scariest moment of my life,” passenger Jenna Farelli said.

So, what happened on Spirit Airlines flight 969?

Four people were removed from the plane for questioning. The remaining passengers were cleared from the plane as police searched the aircraft and the luggage, which were examined by police dogs.

MdTA police said the four people questioned have been released. Authorities said a man was watching a video, which prompted someone else to alert a flight attendant.

“Good for her if she did. That’s the right thing to do, and I think since 9/11 and now, since a few days ago, people have changed in terms of the social psychology of things that they’re not so hesitant anymore to say, ‘Wait a minute. Something’s wrong here,'” BWI traveler Eileen Biernat said.

The flight attendant alerted the pilot, who made the decision to turn the plane around.

MdTA police said those detained include a couple and their relative as well as an unrelated man sitting near them. Passengers are applauding the crew for keeping things from getting out of hand.

It’s certainly true that social psychology has changed. If there were a hijacking on a US airline in the future I’m convinced it would end differently than on 9/11, as people would fight back. Which is understandable, since previously hijackings were often used as negotiation tactics, so the smart thing to do was to not fight back. That has changed, no doubt.

But there’s also a dark side to that, I think, whereby anything which is different is perceived to be dangerous, which sure doesn’t do a lot to foster inclusivity. I’ve read over a dozen articles about this Spirit flight, to try and see if there are any more details about what was so “suspicious” about the video the passenger was watching.

And there doesn’t seem to be any info about it. Heck, the Baltimore police spokesman even says he doesn’t know what the nature of the video was, and presumably he was involved in the investigation. What we do know based on the pictures from the flight is that the passengers being removed had darker skin than most other passengers.

Bottom line

Some of the events going on in the world right now are terrible. But there’s also a fine line between being vigilant and being paranoid. Just because someone has a different skin color than you and is watching something different than you might watch, doesn’t mean your life is in danger. But clearly that doesn’t stop passengers like the one quoted above from praying to God because they think the plane is about to blow up… over someone watching a video.


  1. Shame on those Islamophobes for delaying everyone’s flight because of their own small mindedness and paranoia. It does not surprise me though that this happened on a Spirit Airlines flight…

  2. I read somewhere that it was a news report about the attacks in Paris.

    The media-stoked fear level has made people even more insane and intolerant.

  3. I’ve stopped watching cable and local news because they are all about ratings and just want the shock factor, its much better reading the news or listening to something that doesn’t care about glitz like NPR

  4. Sad. If you can’t quite put your finger on “the problem”, here’s my list of the defects in modern life:

    – Carrier Surcharges
    – Call centres
    – Zero Tolerance
    – Report anything suspicious
    – advertising-supported “news”
    – ratings-driven “news” (“Happening Now!”)
    – Xenophobia, racism, homophobia, basically any negative response to difference
    – responsibility without authority
    – authority without responsibility (flight attendants, TSA, gate agents, call centres)
    – rules instead of decisions

    for those interested, feel free to request the remaining 278 items. To include them here would make this post a rant, which happens to be the next item on the list, after….

    ….hypocrisy 🙂

  5. So what did the lady see that prompted her to say something? We need another report on “the report” because we aren’t told what happened or what she saw these people watching, saying, or doing.

  6. As an Arab American, I decided to do TSA known traveler program and Global Entry not just to save time but perhaps to help in these occasions where my credentials might help. Might last experience at Boston passport control where the agent accused me off having a fake passport picture because it looked like the same picture as my driver’s license (they are both of me) convinced me to pay for those extra measures. A lot of paranoia in this country.

  7. There were all kinds of detailed news reports on this Ben. You are leaving a LOT of information out here. Let me fill in the gaps…

    1. The video the people were watching was an ISIS related video.

    2. It wasn’t just the video that led to the return to gate. A middle eastern woman abruptly got up from her seat and ran to the back of the plane during taxi out to the runway. FAs repeatedly told her to immediately return to her seat and sit down which she ignored so it was decided to return to the gate.

    3. Two of the middle eastern men who were sitting next to each other were asked by police if they knew each other and they said no. I think that’s quite a bit sketchy to say the least. Especially given the way Spirit does their seating assignments. The chances of them randomly being seated right next to each other would be quite low.

  8. totally agree with you Lucky, it is paranoia and it is sad.
    People have to stay vigilant for the collective good but there is a fine line between speaking out of LEGITIMATE fear and speaking out of..well, stupidity.
    Those on this Spirit flight were, unfortunately, part of the latter.

  9. @ORD

    Just because their skin color was dark does not mean they were Middle Eastern. Even Indians, Nepalis, Sri Lankans and other South East Asian people look very similar

  10. “Report anything suspicious”…
    “Middle Eastern Men” seated together…
    Return to gate.

    And then… they probably LIED!!!!! about knowing each other…. so obviously there’s smoke, which means fire, which means bombs.

    All dogs have four legs. My cat has four legs, therefore…

    Ask me if I know the person next to me and I’ll tell you it’s none of your business. It’s desperately sad that this can happen in 2015, on a plane full of people, some of whom can read.

  11. I was on a plane last night where a bag was found in the seats. The flight attendant told the passenger who found the bag to stand up and yell is anyone missing a bag. No one responded and she put it in the over head compartment. I stood up and said that is not okay. We need to find who’s bag this is or it needs to leave the plane. She then replied” We only take off suspicious packages if wires are sticking out”. She then walked away. I remembered a passenger that was having a hard time finding his seat. At one point he had sat there so I went through the plane looking for that guy. Found him in the back of the plane and escorted him to his bag. No one else on the plane even cared. I would rather be careful then dead.

  12. it’s a really tricky thing. and i say this as a brown person with a beard who, after 9/11, had to endure plenty of white people — other passengers — asking me invasive questions while i was waiting to board flights. stuff like, “so who are you going to visit?” and “are you going on a vacation?” at one point i started peppering my speech with “god willing” just to freak them out. ok, kidding about the last part.

    a few months ago, i was waiting for the subway on the lower east side. it was saturday night, station was super crowded and i was a little tipsy. i noticed a suitcase had been sitting unattended on the platform for like 10 minutes with no one standing near it. at first i asked someone near me, ‘do you think i should report that?’ (there was an mta help box a few feet away.) they kind of shrugged. i asked another guy nearby and he nodded and said sure why not. so i went to the help box and reported it. then the train came and off i went. i felt kind of foolish and paranoid, even though i knew i was doing the right thing.

    these are just the times we live in, i guess. we need to not be afraid to pipe up when we feel something isn’t right. but we have to balance that with reason and a clear head. personally i’d rather be profiled if it makes others feel safer — but it’s a very slippery slope.

  13. @pavel – that’s quite possibly the dumbest, most contradictory thing you’ve said. You start off your stupid story w something as simple as ‘are you going on vacation’ bothering you so much. While for the rest of us that’s something called friendly conversation.

    Then you turn around and talk about reporting/turning someone’s suitcase in, and immediately dipping on the next train – which just caused extra headache for them to come back and find it missing. You being tipsy is no excuse for your paranoia or stupidity. Coz you ended that w an absolute gem of retardedness – ‘ok being profiled as long as others FEEL safer’ wtf kinda defeatist BS is that, which doesn’t even serve any good purpose?! If ppl wanna feel better they can goto a shrink, not fk up someone’s day or cause inconveniences just to arbitrarily feel better abt mundane situations.

  14. I actually talked to a guy about this as he’d been on the flight just a few hours earlier. His take was that she was just walking through the plane, maybe to the bathroom, and then a bunch of scared people freaked out.

    (Guy I was talking to was black, FWIW.)

    Since he wasn’t in any way involved and there was no evidence of any threat (just another passenger not listening to FA instructions, which isn’t rare), it sounds a whole lot like a bunch of folk who were spooked by brown people in Paris “just” wanted to feel safer. No matter the racial bias of their own irrational fears nor the implications of those fears for the people they were afraid of.

    We need a word for people who are so easily spooked and who confound skin color with security threat.

  15. @adam, hey buddy! so, your really childish attitude aside i’ll entertain your rebuttal with my own.

    first of all, i found it fascinating how all this “friendly conversation” started the week after the largest terrorist attack on mainland us soil in history. what a convenient time for older white folks to decide to be friendly to me!

    also, i don’t really see how reporting something and dipping off is giving a headache to any of the responding parties involved. the line is “if you see something, say something” but no part of that indicates you have to stick around to explain it. i don’t know if you live or have lived in new york city but response times for these sort of things are sadly slow. but hey, lesson learned. in the future i’ll just ignore it if i can’t spend the next hour waiting for an RMP to show up.

    i find it funny you reinforce my own initial self-doubt by chalking it up to paranoia and stupidity. so the concern of a device being left in a major subway station on a saturday night in the heart of nyc is paranoid and stupid? interesting.

    as for my gem of retardedness, that’s all well and good if you disagree. but i’m just saying i don’t mind being the guy who gets patted down at security if it makes ma and pa kettle a little less nervous. maybe then they aren’t in the mindset to freak out about the little things which end up getting a flight delayed or de-planed.

    if none of this makes sense to you, so be it.

  16. @ORD So two people of Middle Eastern appearance sit next to each, ergo they know each other and lied about it. I am white with red hair. Recently I sat down next to someone with similar appearance…. We’d never met and I assume we are not related. Or maybe I’m lying …

  17. @Jo145 You totally are lying. What are the chances of 2 people randomly sitting next to each other on a Spirit flight that don’t know each other?! Impossible!

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