The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

‘If I can’t go to Las Vegas, Nevada, neither can y’all,’ says unruly passenger who went to jail instead

Safira Allen ran past a gate agent and onto a Spirit Airlines flight at Atlanta’s Hartsfield Airport, prompting it to be evacuated on May 1. (Video: Monica Akhtar/The Washington Post)
Placeholder while article actions load

Safira Allen decided if she could not go to Las Vegas, then none of the other passengers on the Spirit Airlines flight was going either.

Gate agent Lauren Phillips told police she was boarding passengers when Allen ran past the gate, through the boarding ramp and onto a flight at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport on May 1. The agent and the captain approached Allen, who had taken a seat, and asked her to deplane because she had boarded without permission.

Allen refused the flight crew’s request and began using her cellphone to document her experience on Facebook Live.

The nearly 20-minute video shows Allen agitated, yelling at crew members and passengers. At first, she refuses to leave her seat, saying, “After you made me miss my flight because you closed your gate early, I’m not getting off. You’re going to have to call the people.”

As the video continues, Allen’s monologue gets louder. She unbuckles her seat belt, stands and turns to address fellow passengers to announce, “If I can’t go to Las Vegas, Nevada, neither can y’all!”

A voice on the intercom interrupts Allen to ask all passengers to deplane. At this point, passengers begin to shout at Allen.

“Are you kidding me?!” A voice from the rear of the plane shouts.

“Congratulations,” another passenger says on her way off the plane, “You’re the donkey of the day.”

As passengers exit the aircraft, Allen continues to record herself heckling her inconvenienced peers. She tells some people they are going to hell. Saying “Hell is that way,” as she gestures toward the exit. She also shouts at a group of people who appear to be Asian, saying, “Konnichiwa. Hi. Welcome to America. Welcome to America. Thank you for coming to America. Come back soon.”

After the plane empties, Allen approaches the crew, some of whom appear to be pilots. She dashes toward the cockpit, saying “I’ll drive the plane for you.” A crew member blocks her from entering.

Allen is eventually escorted off the plane by an Atlanta police officer who identifies himself as Sgt. Baker and a Spirit representative. The last thing we hear is a police officer telling Allen to, “Put your hands behind your back.”

A police report says Allen kicked the officer in the groin as she was being escorted through the jetway. Police charged Allen with criminal trespass, simple battery and obstruction of a law enforcement officer. She was taken to the Clayton County Jail.

Allen’s video was originally posted to Facebook with the caption, “Spirit Airlines…. ain’t Nothing! #pleaseShareDis.” It has more than 3.2 million views on Facebook.

While Allen’s agitation and actions are extreme, Daniel Lieberman, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at George Washington University, says there are scientific reasons situations escalate so quickly on airplanes.

Dr. Daniel Lieberman, a psychiatrist at George Washington University, explains why tense situations escalate so quickly on airplanes. (Video: Monica Akhtar/The Washington Post)

“The problem is, there is an environmental bias on an airplane to rev up our stress, rev up our stress hormones and make us act in ways that we wouldn’t ordinarily do,” Lieberman said.

The moment you enter an airport, you begin to lose control of your surroundings because you start to follow Transportation Security Administration orders. You are at the mercy of a scheduled flight. On top of that, your personal space begins to shrink as you go through security and board a plane.

Lieberman says the stress hormone norepinephrine, adrenaline inside the brain, is heightened when we lose personal space and the ability to control situations. Norepinephrine, according to Lieberman, activates the famous fight-or-flight reaction in which we act without thinking.

”A lot of times while it’s happening, there’s this voice in the back of our heads saying, ‘Hey, what are you doing? You’re going to regret this later,’ but often times, we know it, but we feel powerless to stop,” Lieberman said.

What really raises the stakes, according to Lieberman, is when you feel like an airline is treating you unfairly. When someone thinks things are unfair, the issue is no longer personal, but a societal question of justice. When someone becomes the “agent of justice” or feels morally justified in punishing others for the greater good of the group, “things can get out of hand,” he said.

“There are scientific experiments that show people can act in actually very sadistic ways under those circumstances. If you start hearing someone say, ‘It’s unfair,’ run in the other direction,” Lieberman said.