American Airlines flight grounded after woman faked illness to get better seat, authorities say


(Washington Post illustration; iStock)

A woman in Florida is in custody for faking medical problems aboard an American Airlines flight headed to Miami early Friday morning, police say.

After taking off around 5:43 a.m., the aircraft was flown back to Pensacola International Airport about 6:26 a.m., said Mike Wood, a spokesman for the Pensacola Police Department.

The captain had notified the flight tower about an unruly passenger, and the department, which patrols the airport, was waiting on the ground for the commercial flight, Wood said.

Once the plane had landed, the woman refused to get off, although other passengers were removed.

“When we got on the ground, we figured out she was faking a medical condition in order to get a better seat,” Wood said, noting that she eventually admitted in a conversation with police and the flight captain that she was trying to get a bigger seat.

The plane took off again nearly two hours after its first departure, Wood said.

No criminal charges have been filed against the woman, who is protected under the Baker Act, a Florida law that permits temporary custody of people who may have a mental illness and whose need for treatment is unable to be determined.

The woman’s privacy and identity are also protected under HIPAA laws, Wood said.

Wood speculated that police may not charge her because no crime was committed in their presence, but he did say that the Federal Aviation Administration or American Airlines may press charges to recover expenses.

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