What Happened On The Flight Where Passengers Had To Keep Hands On Their Heads For 60 Minutes

A week ago I wrote about American Airlines flight 2289 from Los Angeles where passengers were forced to keep their hands on their heads for the last hour of their trip to Miami and then when they were allowed to deplane they were all held inside the terminal.

We now know what happened on board the aircraft, but first I want to go through the reactions that many of you had to the incident, reacting to my being flip that this was just another American Airlines Miami flight.

  • “I don’t think they should declare the reasoning. Too much information in public domain helps Terrorists.”

  • “Don’t tell the public; telling the public is telling terrorists and others with evil intent.”

  • “Do you really think American Airlines is doing this for fun and games? Do you not think protocol was followed and there was a Urgent need for this to occur? ..Whatever happened, it happened for a reason..”

  • “logic should tell you that if the plane was stopped remotely on the tarmac and people were bussed to the terminal, they probably suspected there was a bomb on board. If they suspected there was a bomb on board, that would also support why they wanted everyone’s hands visible and why they did not want people using their phones because a phone can also be used to set off an explosive device.”

So what actually happened?

  • During the flight a passenger alleged there was a security threat. He reported a “gas leak” on board the aircraft. He “accus[ed] one of his seatmates of hiding components of a bomb in her socks.” And he “accused a flight attendant of carrying improvised explosive device components in his back” and tried to take the bag from the crewmember.

  • Two air marshals were on board and investigated the passenger’s claims. There was no merit to them.

  • The passenger began acting up and headed to the front of the plane. The air marshals detained him.

After the threat was determined to be a hoax, and the problem passenger detained, the rest of the passengers had to hold their hands on their heads for nearly an hour. They couldn’t take their hands down, because the captain didn’t say Simon Says. And everyone was held in the terminal while the aircraft was searched on arrival. Nothing was found.

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 InsideFlyer.com, 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. Nobody on that plane has the authority to order me to sit like that. Period. And I’ll win the lawsuit for unlawful imprisonment and anything else that follows if they try.

  2. Never heard of asking people to keep hands up, especially if 2 air mashalls determined it was a hoax and the obviously disturbed passenger was secured. IMHO, someone over stepped her (pilot, flight attendant or air marshall). they unnecessarily raised alarm and discomforted the entire plane. I’m all for reasonable security measures but this seems unnecessary and extreme. The passengers have no legal action since the airline is given broad latitude in how to respond to potential threats but AA should, at a minimum, do something to “make it up” to the passenger (like a credit for a future flight) and also look into who made this decision and why. Discipline should follow if it was out of compliance with the airline’s policy. BTW I flew in and out of LA while the Unabomber was threatening to blow up planes and also a good bit immediately after 9/11 so I’ve dealt with all the security threats and issues airlines have encountered over the last 30 years. This response was out of the norm even under the most stressful times for flying.

  3. Hope they all cash in on a fat lawsuit against the tyrants who ordered this action

  4. I’d be curious as to what the response would have been to a passenger calmly sitting belted in his seat but failing to comply with the “hands up” order. Would the FAs attempt to restrain the passenger despite his only offense being keeping his hands in his lap?

  5. I wish I was on that flight. My newly-acquired PTSD from this incident would have been very financially rewarding. That pilot and f/a’s should absolutely be fired but APA and APFA will ensure that doesn’t happen. AA owes these people some serious compensation. Bottom line, there was a nut onboard. The FAMs determined no threat existed and took crazy into custody. That WAS the end of it but aparently not for the crew. ” “Remember, your flight attendants are not only here for your comfort (lol) but more importantly for your s̶a̶f̶e̶t̶y̶ harassment.” Just another example of “Because great is what we’re going for!”

  6. Horrible experience and very poorly handled. Attend to the idiot and let everyone else have a normal flight. At a minimum the victims deserve major compensation!

  7. There a few possibilities here.

    1. The Captain did not order the hands on head and had no idea it was happening.

    2. He did order it and was not told that the Marshalls determined the threat was a hoax. In that case he is an idiot for not diverting to the nearest available airport.

    3. He ordered it, was told it was a hoax, and elected to not rescind his order on “safety” grounds. In that case he’s an idiot who lacks the required judgement to be an airline Captain. Especially because if he feels there is still a threat he should be diverting.

    4. He might have been more than a little busy and forgot about the instruction. In that case the FA’s are fools for not calling him and verifying that pax should still keep their hands up even though it was a hoax.

    Any way you slice this AA has a lot of questions to answer and hopefully lawsuits will be filed. Because making people sit this way for an hour plus and then holding them at the gate for the misbehavior of one very clear lunatic is beyond unacceptable.

  8. @ Gary — Were you allowed to take your hands down while eating or drinking?

    Okay, I laughed out loud at this one. Now the rest of the group may force me to put my hands on my head

  9. this is not the full story. I don’t think the FA’s or crew would have issued such an order unless it came from THEIR higher ups or perhaps the FAM? There’s more to this. I know I would have been very upset to have been so ordered, frightened out of my mind.

  10. Not happening for me. Pinched nerve in neck means I have limited mobility in holding my arms up for more than a few minutes.

    What they going to do? Shoot me? Probably

  11. So FAMs were involved on board the flight?

    This kind of “hand on heads” thing on the plane sounds like it’s straight out of the FAMs’ playbook.

  12. People wanting to see the airline sued for this situation are going to run into a strong headwind: following the advice of law enforcement and perhaps the orders of law enforcement. Why not sue the US Government and FAMS for this situation? Oh, that’s right, they have color of qualified immunity to do this kind of thing with basically no material and systemic accountability for law enforcement personnel on the ground and in the skies of the country.

  13. Did this apply to elderly passengers. For a variety of health reasons this would be impossible to comply with for more than a few minutes. I don’t think deliberately and knowingly adversely interfering with someone’s health would stand up to a court challenge.
    What would they do? Unlikely this is covered in the FA handbook or customer relations other than Aeroflot maybe.

  14. The FAMS are the one who ordered it … LMAO at these clueless posters !!!! As always.

  15. Just like police airline employees are not trained to recognize or handle psychiatric crises. I would hope that it would be responded to like a seizure or heart attack but that is not the case.

  16. What if you’re just not able? I’m currently in physical therapy for a condition called frozen shoulder where a literally cannot raise my arm without pretty severe pain. The joint capsule is “frozen”.

    Would they have Doctor Dao’d me?

  17. NUTTY – Why didn’t plane land at nearest airport? Florida has many airports capable of handling commercial airliners

  18. Hi All,
    Thoroughly enjoy your news. As a veteran F/A for 32 years and a son just retiring from American I have had a front row seat to the destruction of the industry in general. American appears to be in lead of ridiculous decisions made by management as well as crew members.
    Unbelievable how totally miserable they are allowed to cram people into seats that are not only uncomfortable but unhealthy. $$$$$. That is number one. To treat passengers like cattle with no
    brains is unacceptable. The situation of hands on heads for that period of time is uncalled for without some sort of an explanation. They definitely should have diverted. Once upon a time they were considered the elite in the industry. Unfortunately they are far from it now. The best carrier is Jetblue in my humble opinion. Hope their routes keeping increasing. Thanks for reading.

  19. The FAMs did not order the prolonged hands on the head nonsense. FAMs intervene on flights quite regularly. This was 100% on the crew. I can only hope it costs them. Also, they were nearly an hour away from MIA….plenty of suitable airports between their position and Miami. Beyond the initial incident and subsequent apprehension, if there were truly a dire emergency the could have gotten down right away. This was nothing short of a poor decision by an overzealous crew and I hope they’re made to pay for it.

  20. People don’t have to behave like lemmings. In theory, they have the power of reason. Had one or two begun to lower their hands and used persuasive language, the may well have convinced enough of their fellow passengers to lower their hands so that the authority figures in the cabin could have done anything but accept the “rebellion.”

  21. I would treat it like the seat belt sight that never get’s turned off. I ignore it and go take a piss.

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