An American Airlines passenger who spat on a seatmate, shoved a flight attendant and then opened an emergency exit while the plane was taxiing to the gate before sliding down the emergency chute and running across the tarmac has been ordered to pay the airline more than $42,000 in restitution.
Cynthia McKnight, 24, of Rochester, was sentenced late last week after reaching a plea deal with prosecutors over the April 19, 2022, incident, which resulted in all operations at Buffalo Niagra International Airport being temporarily halted as law enforcement brought the situation under control.
Prosecutors alleged that McKnight became irate when flight attendants asked her to get off her phone as the Chicago O’Hare bound plane was taxiing to the runway in Buffalo.
McKnight got out of her seat, went to the front of the Embraer regional jet and started to argue with some of the passengers before spitting on someone sitting at the front of the plane.
In her plea agreement, McKnight admits that she then attempted to open an exit door and pushed a flight attendant who attempted to stop her. She then opened the door while the plane was still taxiing, which automatically deployed the emergency slide.
McKnight then slid down the emergency slide and started to run across the tarmac before being detained by airport law enforcement. Allegations that she resisted arrest and damaged a wall in her cell at the police station were not pursued.
She did, however, admit that her actions resulted in the flight having to be cancelled and passengers rebooked onto alternative flights. American Airlines estimated that the cost of rebooking passengers and replacing the emergency slide would have set it back in the region of $50,000.
McKnight pleaded guilty to simple assault and was sentenced to time served and three years’ probation. She has been ordered to take part in a substance abuse program and a mental health treatment program.
U.S. District Judge Lawrence J. Vilardo also ordered McKnight $42,128 in restitution to American 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.