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American Airlines flight forced to return to Albuquerque after a man tried to open the emergency exit, passengers say

Multiple people on an American Airlines flight pulled a fellow passenger to the floor after he tried to open one of the emergency exits, forcing the plane to return to Albuquerque, New Mexico, shortly after takeoff, according to multiple passengers.

Flight 1219 to Chicago “returned to ABQ shortly after takeoff due to a disturbance in the cabin involving a disruptive customer,” an American Airlines spokesperson said in a statement. “The flight landed safely and the aircraft was met by local law enforcement upon arrival.”

The incident is just one in a series of recent passenger disruptions on flights that have left some travelers on high alert.

As of Sunday, there have been more than 250 unruly passenger incidents reported to the FAA by flight crews this year, according to the agency. The number of reports spiked to nearly 6,000 in 2021, according to FAA data, as more passengers returned to air travel following a decline during the Covid-19 pandemic. More than 2,000 unruly passenger reports were made in both 2022 and 2023, the data shows.

The incident Tuesday began about twenty minutes into the flight, passenger Zach Etkind told CNN. “I heard people yelling in the back … I thought guys were fighting but it was a man trying to open the door.”

The man, who was sitting at the emergency exit, “cracked open the window that was protecting the handle” on the door, passenger Emma Ritz told CNN affiliate KOAT. “He ripped down the handle where it exposed some of the emergency exit and all the wind came rushing down,” Ritz said.

Blaze Ward, who says he was among a group of passengers that intervened, told KOAT the man had the safety mechanism down, with both hands on the lever and he was yanking it.

“He had it pretty well pulled … I could hear the actual difference in pressure – there was a whistling,” Ward said.

Multiple passengers got the man to the ground and flight attendants restrained him with duct tape and flexi cuffs, Etkind said. He took video on the plane that shows a scuffle on the aisle floor while several men are subduing someone.

“Once we landed, we all got off and people could see the police pull up to the plane. We could watch from the terminal,” Etkind said.

Another video from the incident shows four police officers escorting someone from the plane. It’s not clear whether there was an arrest or if any charges are pending.

The flight took off at 1:54 p.m. and landed safely back at the airport at 2:45 p.m., a spokesperson for Albuquerque International Sunport said.

The FAA and the Albuquerque Division of the FBI are investigating, according to statements from each agency.

Video from the incident shows four police officers escorting someone from the plane. It’s not clear whether there was an arrest or if any charges are pending. - Layzdubz
Video from the incident shows four police officers escorting someone from the plane. It’s not clear whether there was an arrest or if any charges are pending. - Layzdubz

Unruly passengers have also caused disruptions in international travel. Earlier this month, a Canadian man was arrested in Thailand after allegedly opening a plane’s door on a flight that was waiting to take off, causing the evacuation slide to deploy.

In May, a man who opened the door of a plane as it was landing in South Korea told police he felt suffocated and wanted to get off the plane quickly.

And in November, a man on a Southwest Airlines flight opened an emergency exit door and climbed onto the plane’s wing while the aircraft was at a gate in New Orleans.

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