By Bryan Pietsch
An American Airlines flight bound for Miami was grounded for several hours on Tuesday after a passenger entered the plane's cockpit during boarding at an airport in Honduras, the airline said.
The cockpit was open during boarding, as usual, and the passenger entered and "caused damage," said Sarah Jantz, a spokeswoman for the airline. A video posted online showed workers outside an American Airlines plane scrambling on the tarmac while a person was leaning out of an open window in the cockpit.
"Crew members intervened and the individual was ultimately apprehended by local law enforcement," Jantz said, declining to identify the passenger.
The flight departing from the international airport in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, was grounded so a replacement plane could be sent, Jantz said, adding that "we applaud our outstanding crew members for their professionalism in handling a difficult situation."
The flight was initially set to depart shortly before 3 p.m. local time, with the replacement plane's takeoff scheduled for 9:30 p.m., though it ultimately departed at 10:45 p.m., according to the American Airlines website. Passengers were scheduled to arrive in Miami about 6:15 p.m., but after the ordeal they finally arrived at 1:50 a.m. Wednesday, according to the website.
Episodes involving unruly passengers have become a common occurrence on US flights during the pandemic, as passengers act out against airline workers over rules such as mask requirements.
The disputes, sometimes fuelled by excessive drinking, often occur in the passenger portion of the plane, with viral videos on an almost weekly basis of maskless people screaming at flight attendants.
But more serious incidents involving passengers attempting to storm the cockpit, raising obvious terrorism concerns, have occurred in recent years. In June, a passenger on a Delta Air Lines flight from Los Angeles to Nashville tried to breach the plane's cockpit while in the air, forcing the flight to be diverted to Albuquerque. The FBI office in Albuquerque said there was no threat to the public in that episode.
JetBlue employees on a September flight from Boston to Puerto Rico used a neck tie and seat belt extenders to restrain a man who rushed to the front of the plane and tried to enter the cockpit.
Other recent scuffles on flights include a woman who was duct-taped to her seat after she tried to open the plane's door during the flight, and a man who opened an emergency exit and jumped on to the plane's wing as it was taxiing on the tarmac after arriving in Miami.
US Customs and Border Protection said in November that a man was apprehended in Miami after he stowed himself in the landing gear of an American Airlines flight from Guatemala.
Attorney General Merrick Garland directed federal prosecutors in November to prioritize investigations into crimes committed on planes, including those involving passengers who "assault, intimidate or threaten violence against flight crews and flight attendants."