Lawsuit: American Airlines Baggage Handler Made Up Terrorist Threat Against Dying Passenger

This story is among the most egregious I’ve heard and as it proceeds it just gets worse and worse.

Debbie Cardarelli is suing American Airlines for more than $1 million over the experience her now deceased husband had last year as the two flew home from Miami to Rochester, New York via Philadelphia in March 2017. As they boarded their connecting segment to Rochester they were told the aircraft, an Embraer ERJ-145, wouldn’t have room onboard for their carry on and they’d have to gate check it.

Richard Cardarelli gave up the bag, but moments later realized he needed his eye drops which were inside “owing to a cornea transplant years earlier.” The baggage handler who took the carry on said he couldn’t touch the bag again, “even though it was still sitting in plain sight a few feet away.”

An argument ensued. The man got his eyedrops. And got arrested. He was acquitted after fighting charges through his last days. The then-59 year old died of cancer 10 months after first being charged.

  • The lawsuit argues that the baggage handler “concocted a phony bomb threat out of spite” because the gate agent helped him get his eye drops back.
  • And that American Airlines dragged its feet responding to subpeonas, delaying the man’s trial and eventual exoneration as he faced the end of his life.
  • The suit further alleges that he was banned from an American Airlines flight he was taking so that he could attend his trial despite assurances he’d be able to fly.

Here’s how events unfolded after the man got his eye drops back,

Twenty minutes or more passed with still the plane sat near the gate, and some passengers began wondering what the holdup was.

Then a group of Philadelphia police officers boarded the plane, along with the same American Airlines ticketing agent who had intervened to retrieve the eye drops.

..[P]olice told her husband that he was under arrest and hauled him off the airplane in handcuffs. Everyone else had to evacuate the plane, while police K-9 teams searched the baggage and the plane for explosives.

…After a night in the city lockup, Richard Cardarelli was charged with disorderly conduct, making a terroristic threat and threatening to use a weapon of mass destruction.

The baggage handler testified Mr. Cardarelli threatened his bag “would blow up.” But she decided this happened after passengers were boarded, 15 minutes later. She hadn’t told anyone right away.
That wasn’t credible, and he was found not guilty.

Since 9/11 airlines have increasingly turned customer service problems into law enforcement problems. Have a frustrating experience with a flight attendant? You might be met by the police. This culminated in last year’s David Dao beating and dragging incident on a United Express flight. But while not an everyday occurance it’s more common than most realize.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. When you fly nowadays, even within the 50 states, you are no longer in the “free” country we once thought we had. The “post Sept. 11” mentality in aviation combined with the current occupant of the white house makes for a nation I am ashamed to be a citizen of. What happened here is absolutely horrendous and no doubt is owed to that which I’ve referred to!

  2. This lawsuit demonstrates how in “he said, he said” situations courts and juries are often able to fairly easily assess credibility and ferret out truth. Testimony must be weighed without prejudice in light of the surrounding circumstances and common sense. There may even be a jury instruction to that effect. And there is no requirement for a confession or “smoking gun.” Even on its own, circumstantial evidence can be powerful. For example, some may recall the case of Aaron Hernandez. He was convicted of murder based purely on circumstantial evidence under the criminal-law standard of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

  3. Aren’t gate-checked bags on regional flights returned to you planeside at the destination anyway? With that being the case, there shouldn’t have been any security issue for the man to retrieve his eye drops before the bag was loaded on the plane.

    Sounds like the bag handler was confusing bags checked at the gate manager with bags checked in the lobby.

    That she then may have made up the threat story takes it to a whole other level…

  4. I hope they win the lawsuit, and I hope the baggage handler is dismissed and charged with making a false report to law enforcement.

  5. Horrible turn of events for the poor man!! what happened to the baggage handler?? I hope something official

  6. And where is the common sense on the part of law enforcement? They are as guilty as the AA employee(s). If they would asked a few questions and done some simple assessments, they would have come to the proper conclusion that this is a customer service issue – not a law enforcement issue. Law enforcement needs to start thinking about what they are asked to do and evaluate the wisdom of doing so.

  7. in this case, the baggage handler along with the bunch of cops all behave like morons, or they actually are.

  8. @Jim_L

    While I agree with you, didn’t the police show up with a K-9 unit because of a threat the was falsely made by the baggage worker, allegedly?

    I believe they were responding to that phony threat and not a customer service issue. I could be wrong though.

  9. What the hell is wrong with these Keystone Cops at the airport that they don’t know a load of crap when they hear it? Even from a trusted employee…they could have easily defused the situation

    They’re bored and they want to use their authoritah…and we laugh at their stupidity. I’m sure a check will be on the way shortly from Dallas hq..great job airline who is “going for great”

  10. In my experience airport cops are one step above Paul Blart on the competence scale. You really don’t have to much but shoo away cars and drag people off planes.

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