A Southwest Airlines pilot's attempt to send a birthday greeting to an air traffic controller's mother aboard the pilot’s flight has prompted a response from the Federal Aviation Administration after passengers complained to the agency that the pilot's words sent them into a midflight scare.
The panic in the sky occurred Friday afternoon onboard a Southwest flight from Baltimore to MacArthur Airport on New York’s Long Island.
A spokeswoman for Southwest confirmed an air traffic controller working out of the regional command center in Westbury, N.Y., contacted the pilot and had asked him to "wish his mother a happy birthday."
When some of the flight's passengers mistook the pilot's birthday wish to a "mom on board" for "bomb on board," the cabin went into panic and flight attendants were left to calm the anxious travelers before the pilot got back on the PA system to explain what he meant.
"The pilot made an announcement that was misunderstood," the spokeswoman explained.
The airline has made a name for itself as a casual, no-frills airline whose flight attendants perform comedy bits during the preflight instructions, and pilots engage in in-flight chatter. Unfortunately for some passengers, this was a birthday wish that went too far.
After the plane landed safely Friday in Long Island, two passengers took the issue to airport security officials, prompting a response from the FAA.
"Pilots and controllers will sometimes engage in brief greetings," the FAA said in a statement. "If such conversations go beyond this limit, controllers are counseled to refrain from such unnecessary talk."
Despite the scare, the FAA confirmed in the statement that it was "not investigating the pilot or the flight crew."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.