Woman fakes illness to get bigger seat on plane, causing flight to make emergency landing

Helen Coffey
The incident happened on an American Eagle regional service: Wikimedia/Alan Wilson
The incident happened on an American Eagle regional service: Wikimedia/Alan Wilson

A woman who pretended to have health issues during a flight in order to get a bigger seat caused the pilot to make an emergency diversion.

The unnamed passenger from Florida was flying from Pensacola, Florida, to Miami on American Eagle flight 3508 when she claimed to have trouble breathing, the Pensacola Police Department told NBC News.

However, the plan quickly backfired, as the pilot took the decision to declare an inflight emergency and turn the flight back around to land at Pensacola.

The entire aircraft had to evacuate after the woman refused to get off, but eventually authorities convinced her to deplane.

She later admitted she had made up the medical problem to get a bigger seat, according to Pensacola Police Department public information officer Mike Wood.

“On Friday 29 November, American Eagle flight 3508 returned to Pensacola due to a passenger who requested medical assistance,” American Airlines said in a statement.

“The flight took off at 5.43am and landed back at Pensacola at 6.26am and taxied to the gate. All passengers deplaned normally at the gate through the main boarding door and onto the jet bridge.

“The passenger was subsequently removed by law enforcement and medical personnel, and the flight took off again at 7.41am.”

The passenger is currently being held in custody under Florida’s Baker Act, which allows people with mental illnesses to be held involuntarily for up to 72 hours if it’s believed they’re at risk of suffering from neglect or of harming themselves or others.

No charges have yet been filed.

It follows a doctor managing to save a passenger’s life on a flight using a makeshift catheter.

Dr Zhang Hong was on China Southern Airlines flight CZ399 from Guangzhou, China, to New York on 19 November when he stepped in to help a man with a life-threatening bladder condition.

The man, who had a history of prostate enlargement, was bloated and in severe pain before Dr Hong and another doctor, Hainan People’s Hospital vascular surgeon Xiao Zhangxiang, intervened around six hours before the flight’s scheduled arrival time.

Thinking on his feet, Dr Hong constructed a catheter from a straw, a syringe and the tube from an oxygen mask to suck out around 800ml of urine from the passenger’s bladder.

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