WICHITA, Kan. – A passenger who threatened to bring down an American Airlines flight was charged in federal court Wednesday following an inflight dispute that escalated after he was forbidden to smoke an e-cigarette.
Jason Baroletti, 38, of Holbrook, New York, faces one count of interfering with the performance of a flight crew, a court filing shows.
Court records do not indicate whether he has a defence attorney. The Associated Press attempted to reach several possible relatives, and a man who answered the phone at one possible family number declined to talk and hung up.
The disruption caused American Airlines to divert a Phoenix-to-New York flight Tuesday evening to Wichita, Kansas. The flight left Wichita a few hours later and landed in New York shortly before midnight Tuesday.
An FBI affidavit filed with the criminal complaint recounted witness statements alleging that Baroletti started smoking an electronic cigarette about 10 minutes after takeoff. He then asked for a beer to help his anxiety. Flight attendants refused to serve him alcohol, and he then allegedly told them he was “going to take the plane down.”
A physician who was on the flight also told investigators that he advised the agitated passenger that alcohol is the last thing he needs, and that’s when Baroletti threatened to kill him.
Baroletti told an FBI agent that he smoked the e-cigarette but said he didn’t know he couldn’t and stopped after being told to do so.
He also told the agent that he’s on medication to help with anxiety but did not take it that afternoon, and that he had two beers during a layover in Phoenix. Baroletti requested the beer on the flight because it would help him relax, he told the FBI.
Baroletti told the agent he was not a threat to the airline or anyone else, and that he is not a terrorist.
The affidavit notes Baroletti has a criminal history that includes criminal threat that causes evacuation or disruption, possession of narcotics, operating a motor vehicle while impaired and criminal sale of controlled substances.
He told the agent he was sleeping when he was awoken by police to get off the plane.
Bill McCarthy, a member of New York-based alternative rock band Augustines who was on the flight, said the passenger was “threatening to kill people,” according to a statement given by McCarthy’s manager to The Associated Press.
McCarthy tweeted a photo of police on the plane in Wichita. Upon landing, “police swarmed the plane” and detained a man in a red jacket, according to McCarthy’s statement.
Associated Press reporter Hannah Cushman in Chicago contributed to this report.