Unruly passenger prompts flight cancellation: 'I was extraordinarily scared. Like weak in the knees scared'

Unruly passenger prompts flight cancellation: 'I was extraordinarily scared. Like weak in the knees scared'

A man aboard a Porter flight that returned to the St. John's terminal Wednesday afternoon because of an unruly passenger says he was 'extraordinarily scared' by the passenger's behaviour.

Ben Taylor, a Memorial University student who was returning to Nova Scotia for the holidays, said the man who was escorted off the flight had been acting strangely even before getting on the plane.

Taylor said the man had a single small gym bag as luggage, with the price tag still on it and containing nothing but an aerosol can of deodorant, and bought his ticket at the Porter counter.

"He was buying a one-way ticket to Toronto but found out that it was quite expensive," said Taylor. The man then bought a ticket to Halifax instead but seemed unfamiliar with using a debit card and spoke in broken English. When the man boarded, he seemed confused and wasn't sure where to sit until a passenger helped him find the seat on his boarding pass.

"He seemed very anxious at the time," said Taylor. "He was looking around, he looked super, super-anxious."

He added that he overheard a flight attendant talking about the man making her nervous, which in turn worried Taylor. While the plane was taxiing down the runway, the man got up from his seat, prompting a flight attendant to take action.

The plane then stopped taxiing and sat on the runway for 30-45 minutes, said Taylor. The man got up from his seat to repeatedly ask for water.

"Almost like it was acted out, almost like it was rehearsed, he says, 'Can I have a water?' And it was so clear English, but before, at the checkout counter, he just didn't really seem like he was understanding English and he was very broken at it."

He repeatedly insisted on having water, despite the attendant asking him to return to his seat. After initially trying to sit down near the back, the man eventually did return to his seat, where he pressed the button to call a flight attendant. Using the plane's speaker system, said Taylor, an attendant told the man, he'd have to wait.

After about 20 minutes — during which the man continued to look around anxiously, said Taylor — the pilot announced the plane would be returning to the terminal, where security personnel boarded and escorted the man off the plane.

He heard another passenger, who had been sitting beside him, say he had a "black brick" with him.

"She was like, it wasn't a phone, it wasn't a gaming device, or anything like that … it was just a black brick," he said. Porter staff asked passengers to share anything they'd observed about the man, and Taylor shared what he had seen.

"They were collectively like, OK, he was in different seats, he was hanging around different seats, there could have been multiple things that he dropped in pockets or dropped behind seats or in between seats," said Taylor, so passengers disembarked and the flight was cancelled. The airline handed out food vouchers and taxi chits, and put passengers up in hotels if they didn't live in the area, as the flight has been rescheduled for Thursday morning.

Staff handled incident well

Taylor said Porter and security personnel handled the incident well — but it was still unnerving.

"Right now I'm a lot calmer," he said. "At the time … I usually don't get scared about that kind of stuff … just seeing the gentleman, having the scenarios playing out in my mind, I was extraordinarily scared. Like weak in the knees scared."

A spokesperson for the airport authority confirmed for CBC that Transport Canada had all the passengers disembark for a precautionary re-screening. That re-screening then expanded to include all passengers in the departures lounge.

The spokesperson says there was no direct threat. Transport Canada declined to provide specific details about the incident beyond saying it was aware of what happened.

"Air operators have procedures to follow when dealing with unruly behaviour," said a spokesperson in an email.