Police body camera video NBC 6 exclusively obtained shows American Airlines first-class passenger Elizabeth Bridget Morgan at Miami International Airport moments after she was taken off an international flight in January.
“The passenger in 1D came up and said ‘look I think he (flight attendant) needs your help,” a flight attendant can be heard saying. “She’s treating him very aggressively and badly.”
According to a police report, Morgan “was refusing to wear her mask” and “became verbally aggressive” towards a flight attendant during the Miami to London flight.
“I was afraid that she was going to get more, escalate,” a flight attendant tells Miami-Dade Police officers on the scene trying to piece together what happened.
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The plane took off from Miami at 7:59 p.m. with passengers expecting to be at London the next morning, but after over an hour in the air, along the North Carolina coastline, the jet made a U-turn and headed back to Miami, leaving the 129 passengers right 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 are talking about probably cost the airline six digits … we haven’t even talked about the crew being out of position and the aircraft being out of position, which means the flight, the next day from Europe back to the United States, likely had to be canceled.”
Reports of Unruly Passengers
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) told NBC 6 the number of unruly passengers has tripled since 2019.
According to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), more than 7,000 incidents of unruly passengers have been reported to the FAA since 2021. Most of them 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. from the Association of Professional Flight Attendants.
He worries about the safety of passengers and crew members.
“We have of course over the last couple of years seen an increase in disruptive and threatening behavior we’ve never seen before in the airline industry,” Hartshorn said.
Elizabeth Morgan expressed remorse to the officers at the airport.
“If I was horrible to somebody on the plane, Oh my God. The thought of the plane turning around because of my behavior. It would break my heart wouldn’t it yeah,” she said.
She went on to say, “I lost both my parents the last two years. It’s the first time we have been away and I spent two years in lockdown, started drinking too much, yes so I tend to be a bit of a (expletive) in complete fairness.”
Morgan declined our request for an on camera interview. But she sent us an email, saying in part, “This was only the second flight I have been on for a number of years due to COVID restrictions. I have a condition that affects my sinuses and find it difficult wear a mask for long periods of time. I became overwhelmed by the situation and behaved in a way that is very much out of character.”
She said she has apologized to the airline crew and other passengers for the “inconvenience.”
Morgan wasn’t arrested but American Airlines banned her from all of its aircraft. She told NBC 6 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 don’t follow the rules.
“Most Americans now have been on a flight where there’s been an incident and it's unsettling,” said Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-CA, who sponsored the bill.
The Protection from Abusive Passengers Act will create a national no fly list for unruly passengers and ban them permanently 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 potential criminal prosecution.
“This threatening and abusive behavior we are seeing from a small number of passengers not only affects the safety of the flight attendants and the crew but the passengers as well,” Hartshorn said.
The federal mask mandate on public transportation was set to expire on April 18 but has been extended to May 3. Gov. Ron DeSantis is suing the Biden administration over this issue.