Passengers were left coughing and spluttering on a recent United Airlines flight to Newark after a man accidentally discharged pepper spray onboard the flight. Luckily, United flight UA1061 from Fort Myers, Florida was still taxiing for takeoff at the time and passengers were able to quickly get off the plane once it had returned to the gate.
According to local news station Fox 4, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) confirmed that security screeners based at Fort Myers had failed to notice the can of pepper spray in the passenger’s carry-on bag when he passed through the security checkpoint.
Federal rules prohibit passengers from carrying either pepper spray or mace in their carry-on luggage but some airlines do allow customers to pack personal defense sprays in their checked luggage.
“Everybody started coughing, and during COVID everybody starts looking around,” commented Joseph Grande, a passenger onboard the United Airlines operated Boeing 737.
It didn’t take long, however, for everyone to realize what had actually happened once the passenger owned up to discharging pepper spray. “One of the gentlemen in the exit row, which was like two rows in front of me to my left, was like oh, I accidentally hit this thing on my key chain,” Grande explained.
By this point, the aircraft was returning to the gate where passengers were then deplaned. In a statement, a spokesperson for United confirmed Monday’s flight from Fort Myers to Newark had been delayed due to a “disruptive incident”.
“On Monday, United flight 1061 from Fort Myers, Florida to Newark, NJ returned to the gate due to a disruptive incident involving a customer prior to take off. Soon after, the flight safely departed for Newark,” a spokesperson for the airline said in an emailed statement.
Last June, TSA officers intercepted 12 guns in just nine days in passenger carry-on luggage at airports across Florida, including Fort Myers. Within the first six months of 2020, the TSA had recovered nearly 150 firearms from passengers trying to pass through security checkpoints across Florida.
Some of those stopped were arrested while others faced civil penalties of $13,000 or more.
A spokesperson for the TSA told local media outlets that it had provided refresher training to its agents at Fort Myers to help them detect pepper spray as well as they detect firearms in carry-on luggage.
Photo Credit: United Airlines
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.