BOSTON, Massachusetts — Inching into another passenger’s knee space has some fliers itching for a fight.
In the second serious airline legroom argument reported this week, a reportedly irate passenger caused a flight from Miami to Paris to divert to Boston on Wednesday.
Paris resident Edmund Alexandre, 60, was charged in U.S. federal court Thursday with interfering with an airline flight crew. Interfering with flight crew members is a violation of federal law and carries a sentence of up to 20 years in prison. (The passenger’s name has also been spelled “Edmond” Alexandre in court documents.)
About two hours after American Airlines Flight 62 had departed Miami on Wednesday, Alexandre allegedly “began arguing with another passenger and became disruptive,” according to a press statement from Carmen Ortiz, U.S. Attorney for the District of Massachusetts. Alexandre was also charged under state law.
After a crew member asked him to calm down and walked away, “Alexandre allegedly began raising his voice again, followed the crew member towards the back of the plane, and grabbed the crew member’s arm,” according to Ortiz’s statement.
At that time federal air marshals on the flight broke cover and subdued and restrained Alexandre, according to an FBI agent’s affidavit. The flight was diverted to Boston Logan International Airport, where he was arrested.
Alexandre complained of high blood pressure and issues with diabetes, according to the affidavit, and was transferred to Massachusetts General Hospital.
It’s been a tense week for passengers on both sides of the right-to-recline debate.
A United Airlines flight from Newark to Denver was diverted on August 24 after two passengers argued over one passenger’s use of a “Knee Defender,” a device that blocks reclining.
Water was thrown and the passengers, both 48, were removed from the flight in Chicago, according to a federal law enforcement source, speaking on background. The passengers were not arrested.
It seems at least one of the passengers was not completely satisfied with the extra space in the Economy Plus section where they were seated, which provides United passengers up to 5 inches of extra legroom compared with standard coach seats.
Aviation blogger Benet Wilson is surprised there haven’t been more incidents in the air as travelers face long security checkpoint lines at more crowded airports as well as less space and fewer amenities on planes.
“As airlines try and squeeze as many seats into economy as possible, that decreases seat pitch which can be uncomfortable for someone like me, who is 5’3″,” wrote Wilson via email.
“But imagine being a foot taller squeezed into that same space. It doesn’t help that the FAA doesn’t have an official rule on using (seat blocking devices), instead deferring to passengers and airlines. So I feel the situation will get worse before it gets better.”
The core problem is definitely the airlines packing too many seats too close together into a tight space, said veteran flight attendant Heather Poole, author of “Cruising Attitude: Tales of Crashpads, Crew Drama, and Crazy Passengers at 35,000 Feet.”
“That said, this doesn’t give anyone the right to act childish,” Poole wrote via email. “To react in such a way that the crew feels the need to divert a flight to have a passenger removed is a really big deal.”
In a disagreement where legroom tension does not appear to have been a factor, a couple of drunken women partied a little too hard on a Canadian flight bound for Cuba this week and found their plans of sunny, sandy beaches replaced with arrests and a court appearance.
The two women on Sunwing Airlines Flight 656 from Toronto to Varadero, Cuba, apparently broke out their duty-free booze on Wednesday, lit up a cigarette in a passenger jet bathroom and got “into a physical altercation with each other,” the airline said.
They also allegedly threatened to do something to the plane, which triggered Canadian military jet escorts and an immediate return trip home. A judge granted the two women bail on Thursday after they were charged with disturbing a flight.
The crew didn’t actually believe the women could do any damage, “given their condition,” Sunwing said, but procedure called for the captain to make a U-turn and head back to Toronto Pearson International Airport.