Charges filed Tuesday in federal district court in Nebraska identify the woman as Maria Rita Manzoni. Authorities seek to formally charge her with interfering with a flight crew and its attendants after she allegedly began screaming of other passengers’ terrorist plots and had to be restrained by flight attendants and passengers.
The charge, a felony, carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. Manzoni, whose age was not disclosed, appeared in court on Tuesday. She will be released into the care of her mother or a friend, who will take her back to Maryland. Manzoni cannot use public transportation as a condition of her release, and she must surrender her passport.
I hope that Ms. Manzoni does not end up in jail for this act. What good is it going to do her or society to add another person to the jail system who would be better cared for and less of a tax burden under the protection of a guardian? For whatever reason, she did not take her meds. I neither defend Ms. Manzoni’s action nor think she should merely be given a slap on the wrist: I’d make her compensate UA for the thousands of dollars in fuel and labor costs that are directly attributable to her actions. I also would not welcome her on United Airlines again. But I don’t see a need to rub salt in Manzoni’s wounds by throwing her in jail. My initial conclusion is that she lacked the criminal intent to be found guilty of committing the crime for which she is charged.
Her red-eye flight left San Francisco with 148 passengers at 2:05 a.m. CDT Monday, according to flight records and airline officials. The government’s complaint said the incident began in midair at approximately 3 a.m., when the woman in seat 21A pushed her call button.
She told the flight attendant she felt ill, and the attendant suggested the woman visit a lavatory at the back of the aircraft.
As she walked back, court documents allege that Manzoni told the flight attendant that the other passengers in the row she’d left behind were terrorists.
This corroborates the account of some of the passengers who commented in my initial blog posts on this incident. Some have added that she expressed anxiety over her seatmates before the flight even departed.
The woman told the flight attendant that one of the passengers had a bungee cord and voice recorder, while another had a GPS system and some cellophane. The flight attendant spoke with the row’s other passengers and looked at the items, the complaint said, but determined that none posed a threat.
The woman took a seat in the back of the aircraft — near the flight attendant — but became concerned when the attendant began using her laptop, authorities said. The accused woman started talking to the attendant, but the attendant became uncomfortable and left to find help.
Manzoni then demanded to return to her original seat, authorities allege. At this point, authorities say Manzoni saw a flight attendant squeezing a stress ball while holding a toiletries kit on her lap. Manzoni became hysterical, authorities said, screaming “terrorist” while she tried to take the kit from the attendant’s lap.
She then began pushing the flight attendant call button, pointing at other attendants and shouting that they were terrorists.
Remind me to leave my stress ball at home when I return to SFO on Friday.
Manzoni then started walking toward the front of the aircraft, the documents allege, prompting the flight attendants to ask passengers for help. The woman made it to the first-class cabin before she was subdued by two male passengers and restrained by flight attendants.
This is the part of the story that is still unclear. I (and others) thought she attempted to open door 2L and was pulled back by a FA then subdued with the assistance of two passengers. Others claim she was rushing toward the flight deck. Others claim she was constrained before she reached the exit door.
The plane was diverted to Omaha, where it landed at 4:45 a.m. Authorities removed her from the plane. The remaining passengers left Omaha for Washington about 7 a.m.
Actually, we landed just after 0500 at OMA. During the delay Captain Fitzgerald frequently updated the passengers and assured many frayed nerves that the plane was safe and that we would soon be departing for IAD. His calm demeanor was effective in easing tensions in a plane filled with stressed out flyers.
I really wish this event never occurred. Not only did I miss my meetings on Monday, but the diversion cost UA quite a bit of money and ruined my night’s rest. But I never feared for my safety at anytime and I think that says a lot about United. Anyone who has read my blog knows that I am no United apologist, but 200,000 miles of unscathed travel a year does engender a sense of impregnability when I am on a United flight and this incident only solidifies my trust in the ability of United to transport me safely around the world.