Police body camera video that NBC 6 has exclusively obtained shows American Airlines First Class passenger Elizabeth Bridget Morgan at Miami International Airport moments after departing an international flight in January.
“The passenger in 1D came over and said ‘listen, I think he (stewardess) needs your help,’ a stewardess can be heard saying. “She treats him very aggressively and wrong.”
According to a police report, Morgan “refused to wear her mask” and “became verbally aggressive” toward a flight attendant on the Miami-London flight.
“I was worried she would have more, that she would escalate,” a flight attendant told Miami-Dade police officers at the scene trying to piece together what happened.
The plane took off from Miami at 7.59pm with passengers expecting to be in London the next morning, but after more than an hour in the air along the North Carolina coast the jet turned around -tour and returned to Miami, leaving the 129 passengers where they started.
“It’s a ripple effect. Many, many people are affected by this bad behavior,” said Jay Rollins, a former airline captain. “This incident that we’re talking about probably cost the airline six figures… we haven’t even talked about the crew not being in position and the plane not being in position, which means that the flight the next day from Europe to the United States United States probably had to be cancelled.
Reports of unruly passengers
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) told NBC 6 that the number of unruly passengers has tripled since 2019.
According to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), more than 7,000 unruly passenger incidents have been reported to the FAA since 2021. Most of them were related to the use of masks.
In 2021 alone, the FAA proposed $5 million in fines.
“It’s definitely a new world,” said Paul Hartshorn Jr. of the Association of Professional Flight Attendants.
He is concerned about the safety of passengers and crew members.
“We have of course seen over the past two years an increase in disruptive and threatening behavior that we have never seen before in the airline industry,” Hartshorn said.
The passenger apologizes
Elizabeth Morgan expressed remorse to airport officials.
“If I was horrible to someone on the plane, Oh my God. The idea of the plane turning around because of my behavior. That would break my heart, wouldn’t it, yeah “, she said.
She went on to say, “I’ve lost both my parents in the last two years. It’s the first time we’ve been away and I spent two years in lockdown, I started drinking too much, yeah so I tend to be a bit (expletive) in fairness.
Morgan declined our request for an on-camera interview. But she emailed us, saying in part, “This was only the second flight I’ve been on in several years due to COVID restrictions. I have a condition that affects my sinuses and I have struggling to wear a mask for long periods of time I was overwhelmed by the situation and behaved in a way that was completely out of place.
She said she apologized to the airline crew and other passengers for the “inconvenience”.
Morgan was not arrested but American Airlines banned her from all of its planes. She told NBC 6 that she was also fined by the TSA.
Push for tougher penalties
A bill recently introduced in Congress is pushing for tougher penalties for passengers who break the rules.
“Most Americans have now taken a flight where there’s been an incident and it’s troubling,” said Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-CA, who sponsored the bill.
The Abusive Passenger Protection Act will create a nationwide no-fly list for unruly passengers and permanently ban them from TSA PreCheck or Global Entry programs.
“It’s unacceptable and the best we can do is make sure there’s a consequence,” Swalwell added.
According to the FAA, more than 150 passengers could face up to $37,000 in fines and 80 have been referred to the FBI for possible criminal prosecution.
“This threatening and abusive behavior that we are seeing in a small number of passengers affects not only the safety of flight attendants and crew, but also that of passengers,” Hartshorn said.
The federal mask mandate on public transportation expires on April 18, but that is being assessed. Governor Ron DeSantis is suing the Biden administration over it.