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The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Man held razor blade near passenger’s throat on flight, prosecutors say

A JetBlue plane at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York in March 2017. (Seth Wenig/AP)

A Utah man was arrested after bringing a razor blade onto a plane and allegedly threatening the woman next to him with it, holding the blade near her throat midflight, federal authorities said.

Merrill Darrell Fackrell, 41, of Syracuse, Utah, was charged with assault and carrying a weapon on an aircraft after the Monday flight from New York City to Salt Lake City, the U.S. attorney’s office in Utah said.

A few days before Thanksgiving, during one of the country’s busiest periods of air travel, Fackrell boarded the JetBlue flight and settled into seat 6A with a one- to two-inch blade concealed on him, authorities said in an affidavit filed Tuesday in federal court in Utah.

Authorities said it was not clear why the weapon, which federal prosecutors said was a wood-handled straight razor, was missed during security screening.

Straight razors are not allowed in carry-on luggage on planes, according to the Transportation Security Administration, and can only fly in checked bags. The TSA did not immediately respond to an email from The Washington Post on Friday morning.

TSA errors allowed disruptive passenger to bring box cutters onto flight

It wasn’t the first flight this month disrupted by a passenger wielding a weapon. A Frontier Airlines flight on Nov. 11 landed early after a passenger brought a box cutter onto the plane, something TSA later said happened because agents made errors during the security screening.

And as the airline industry recovers from the effects of the pandemic’s peak — this year’s Thanksgiving travel numbers were higher than last and probably will match 2019’s — the incident added to the tally of allegedly unruly or threatening passengers, a phenomenon that worsened during the pandemic.

Fackrell was jailed in Utah after a judge denied his request to be released on bail Wednesday, according to court documents. A lawyer for Fackrell did not immediately respond to a phone call and email from The Post on Friday morning.

During the flight, Fackrell was seated in the window seat and struck up a conversation with the woman seated next to him, while her husband, in an aisle seat, was wearing headphones, according to the affidavit.

As they chatted in a “long and varied” conversation, Fackrell allegedly had several alcoholic drinks. When the woman, who was not identified by federal authorities, put on headphones and started a movie, Fackrell allegedly continued talking to himself.

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The woman ignored him. Fackrell allegedly then put his hand in front of her screen and told her to pause the movie.

She looked up to realize he was holding a blade — what appeared to her to be a knife — next to her throat, “inches” from her skin, authorities said.

Fackrell stood up and shouted, “She’s going to be okay” and “No one needs to worry,” according to the affidavit, and told her husband to leave.

TSA found a gun inside a raw chicken

The woman’s husband ran for help. She made a lunge for the aisle as Fackrell allegedly tried to stop her. She fought him off and ran to the front of the plane, according to the affidavit.

A man seated across the aisle then confronted Fackrell, according to the affidavit, and persuaded him to put the razor blade down on the plane seat. The man grabbed the blade, which he also believed to be a knife, and gave it to the flight crew.

The man sat next to Fackrell for the rest of the flight. The plane’s crew members notified authorities, and law enforcement officers met the flight in Salt Lake City, JetBlue spokesperson Derek Dombrowski said in an email.

“The safety of our customers and crew members is JetBlue’s first priority, and we will support law enforcement during their investigation,” Dombrowski said.