A 16 year old passenger got escorted off a Silver Airways flight by police… for taking pictures.
The ‘incident’ occurred earlier this month, on March 7th, when the Passenger was about to fly on board the small American regional airline from Fort Myers to Orlando and then taking a connecting flight to New York Newark with JetBlue.
“I had to fly to New York as soon as possible due to my Grandmothers impending cancer surgery.“
Matt, the Passenger, showed AIRLIVE.net a letter he sent a to Silver Airways, explaining what happened before and during the flight. You can find the full letter on ‘One Mile at a Time‘.
“While boarding the aircraft and upon sitting in my seat, I took three pictures with my phone of the plane wing and also of the ramp when walking to the plane. […] It would be a lie to say that I wasn’t excited to be flying the SAAB 340 for the first time that day, so naturally I took a few pictures onboard the plane, as any tourist, business traveler, etc. can and does.“
After he took pictures and called his mother in her native language, Polish, to update her about the one hour delay of the flight, another person on board reported him to the crew as a ‘suspicious passenger’. A few minutes later, two police cars sped up to the aircraft and police officers boarded the aircraft. They ordered Matt to ‘get up immediately’ and to exit the aircraft.
“The amount of confusion I experienced at that moment was indescribable. I am not the type of person to give up my rights as a citizen of the United States by getting up to disembark an aircraft for no reason or have my person searched with no probable cause, however, I was so fearful of getting kicked off the only flight that would allow me to make my connection.“
Matt was travelling with his 21 year old sister. The crew initially prevented her from exiting the aircraft, but she was finally allowed to, when the police ordered the crew to let her off because Matt was a minor. She says she was extremely confused and didn’t know what was happening.
The police officers brought Matt to a K9 vehicle, where they questioned him and ‘violated his rights’ by searching through his phone (including messages, email & social media).
“I was being treated as a “dangerous person” by the police. […] I stood on the hot tarmac the entire time with a cop who had no idea what was wrong himself. Apparently, a female passenger witnessed me taking a single photo on my phone and quietly told the Flight Attendant that I was taking pictures and plotting to do something dangerous aboard the plane. This is all Sgt. Taylor told me.“
He was finally allowed to board the aircraft again.
“Before I could ask another question, [Silver Airways] ground crew members began shouting for me to get onboard as to not “hold up the plane even more”.“
Matt and his sister were not allowed to sit in their originally booked seats, but instead were ordered to sit in the first row, ‘inches away from the flight attendant’.
“[The flight attendant] did not take an eye off of us the entire hour long flight.“
He says the passengers looked at him and his sister, shaking their heads and making crude comments.
“Silver Airways made me feel like a criminal. I came into the airport excited to fly to see my Grandma but went out feeling discriminated, victimized, and violated as a human being. All ethical guidelines possible were ignored by [the Silver Airways] crew. […] There was no announcement to the other passengers clarifying of the unfortunate miscommunication. […] No one apologized.“
The aircraft on flight 3M87 departed Fort Myers Airport with a total delay of more than two hours.
Ten days after the flight, the airline still has not responded to Matt’s complain, nor his letter. It did not take any steps to prevent an occurrence like this from happening again in the future.
Silver Airways has also not answered requests by AIRLIVE.net and One Mile at a Time for an official statement. The airline has only issued a statement to local news station NBC-2 Fort Myers:
“The safety and security of everyone on board our flights is our number one priority. As such, our crew members are trained to take any necessary precautionary measures to protect the safety and security of everyone on board our flights. When a passenger reported a possible security threat, they advised our crew who in turn followed the proper safety and security procedures and called law enforcement. The situation was resolved and the flight continued.“
Ben Schlappig from One Mile at a Time comments: “I can appreciate that the number one priority for an airline crew is the safety of the passengers onboard, and that can be a tough balance. I feel like it hasn’t been as bad lately, but a year or two back, there was a story just about every week of Muslims getting kicked off US airlines because other passengers thought they were suspicious [see: ‘Muslim couple removed from Delta flight from Paris‘]. In a vast majority of those cases, the passengers were just being racist, and the only “crime” being committed was “flying while Muslim.”