The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Delta passenger tried to open emergency door as attention-grab to share vaccine views, feds say

A Delta Air Lines plane leaves the gate on July 12, 2021, at Logan International Airport in Boston. (Michael Dwyer/Associated Press)
5 min

A Delta Air Lines passenger is facing federal charges after he allegedly tried to open an emergency door in-flight in the hope that other passengers would record him sharing his views on coronavirus vaccines, prosecutors announced Monday.

Michael Brandon Demarre, 32, was on a Friday flight from Salt Lake City to Portland, Ore., when he removed a plastic covering over the handle on the aircraft’s emergency exit and forcefully pulled on the handle, Justice Department officials wrote in a news release. After a flight attendant intervened and demanded he let go of the handle, Demarre complied and was physically restrained by the flight crew, officials say.

When asked why he attempted to open the emergency door in-flight, the Portland resident told police he hoped passengers onboard would start filming him so he had “the opportunity to share his thoughts on covid-19 vaccines,” according to an affidavit from FBI agent Adam T. Hoover. In a passenger video obtained by the Register-Guard, Demarre is seen yelling, “We’re all being lied to,” and muttering about coronavirus vaccines as he is taken off the plane by authorities.

“Once in Portland, Demarre told officers he created the disturbance so other passengers would video record him sharing his personal views,” the Justice Department wrote.

Demarre is charged with threatening to interfere and interfering with a flight crew and attendants. He could face up to 20 years in prison if convicted, according to U.S. law.

Assistant federal public defender Gerald Needham, Demarre’s attorney, did not immediately respond to a request for comment early Tuesday. Needham told a judge Monday that the allegations were “out of character” for his client, according to the Oregonian.

A Delta spokesperson told The Washington Post in an email that the company has “zero tolerance for unruly customers as nothing is more important than the safety of our customers and our people.”

The charges against Demarre are among the latest in series of pandemic-era airplane disruptions that have brought about discussions for how to increase safety measures on flights. Delta Air Lines chief executive Ed Bastian urged Attorney General Merrick Garland earlier this month to support industry efforts to create a national list that would bar those convicted of onboard incidents from travel. Bastian wrote in a letter that such a list would not only reduce the number of future incidents involving disruptive passengers but would also “serve as a strong symbol of the consequences of not complying with crew member instructions on commercial aircraft.”

Delta Air Lines asks Justice Department to help set up national ‘no-fly’ list of unruly passengers

The Federal Aviation Administration said that more than 70 percent of the thousands of reports of unruly passengers last year involved people who would not comply with the federal mandate to wear a face covering.

Two American Airlines flights were forced to divert from their destinations Sunday. The incidents happened just hours apart. One of the flights traveling from Los Angeles to Reagan National Airport was forced to land in Kansas City, Mo., after a man allegedly threw a coffee pot. The man was eventually subdued, but not before he was hit on the head with the coffee pot, a passenger told The Washington Post.

Passengers watched a person get restrained after becoming unruly on a Feb. 15 American Airlines flight to D.C. from Los Angeles. (Video: Courtesy Mouaz Moustafa via Twitter)

The Delta incident Friday occurred about 20 minutes after takeoff. Assistant U.S. Attorney Mira R. Chernick told a judge Monday that multiple people onboard reported hearing “a loud air whooshing as the defendant yanked on the door repeatedly.”

“This was a very dangerous offense that endangered the lives and safety of the people on that plane and put many of them in a fearful situation,” Chernick said.

Unruly passengers lead pilots to divert two American Airlines flights amid discussion over ‘no-fly’ list

After Demarre’s attempts to open the door set off an alert in the cockpit, authorities said a flight attendant told him to stop pulling on the handle and directed him toward the back of the aircraft. When he complied, he was physically restrained.

“The man was tackled to the ground by nearby passengers,” a passenger told the Register-Guard. “One of the flight attendants miraculously happened to be right there, and she was able to shut/latch the door.”

Hoover wrote that flight attendants instructed four other passengers to keep an eye on Demarre and prevent the man from touching any of the other emergency exits.

Video of Demarre being escorted off the plane by police shows him yelling about the vaccines.

“We’re all being lied to, wake up!” he yelled. After a passenger told him to shut up, Demarre replied, “The Earth is bleeding, the international community hates the United States of America.”

Many of the passengers are heard applauding after he was taken off the plane.

Some witnesses told authorities that Demarre may have been suffering a mental health crisis, but it remains unclear. Demarre is on probation for a 2020 conviction for driving under the influence of intoxicants and has a separate criminal mischief conviction from last year, the Oregonian reported.

It is not the first time in recent months that a passenger has tried to open the emergency door on a plane. An American Airlines passenger was arrested in September after he opened an aircraft’s emergency exit door and jumped on the wing of the plane as it arrived at Miami International Airport.

U.S. Magistrate Judge John V. Acosta ordered Monday that the Portland man remain in custody until a mental-health evaluation can be completed. Demarre has a detention review hearing scheduled for the end of this week.

Read more:

Pandemic love, lost and found

He shot a man over tossed popcorn, prosecutors say. His defense: Stand-your-ground.

An alt-right podcaster kept an illegal arsenal of machine guns in his basement, authorities say