Here’s Why Criminal Charges Could Be Filed Following 8-Hour ANA Flight To Nowhere

Filed Under: ANA

Yesterday I wrote about Tuesday’s ANA flight 175 from Los Angeles to Tokyo Narita, which ended up turning around roughly four hours after departure, meaning that the plane landed in Los Angeles about eight hours after it departed. Chrissy Teigen was on the flight and live Tweeted the whole thing, which is probably why this has become a national story so quickly.

Initially ANA released the following statement regarding the incident:

“During the flight, the cabin crew became aware that one of the passengers boarded the incorrect flight and notified the pilot. As part of the airline’s security procedure, the pilot in command decided to return to the originating airport, where the passenger was disembarked. ANA is researching the situation currently to determine how the passenger boarded the flight. ANA would like to express its apologies to the passengers for the inconvenience.”

While we didn’t officially know what unfolded, the belief was that the passenger was scheduled to be on the United flight departing around the same time, and somehow ended up on the ANA flight instead (it’s an easy enough mistake to make, especially as the airlines codeshare, had flights departing around the same time, etc.). The question is how this is possible, given that the passenger’s boarding pass had to be scanned, their boarding pass had to be verified at the door of the plane, they had to find a vacant seat without being suspicious, and the crew had to do a seat count before departure.

We now have a lot more information about what unfolded, and it looks like this may not have been as innocent of a mistake as we first assumed, and the FBI is weighing the possibility of filing criminal charges. According to ABC:

Law enforcement sources with knowledge of the situation told ABC News that two brothers went through security at Los Angeles International Airport on Tuesday with legitimate tickets, but were booked on separate flights to Tokyo. One had a ticket on an All Nippon Airways flight and the other was booked on a United Airlines plane.

The brothers, who have nearly identical names, were able to board the ANA flight together by apparently using a duplicate boarding pass, the sources said. It’s unclear how the brother with a United Airlines ticket found a seat on the plane. Their identities have not been revealed, other than being male American citizens.

FBI agents told ABC News on Wednesday night that they aren’t in a position to arrest anyone or press charges yet, but the investigation is ongoing. If investigators determine there was intent to board the incorrect flight, one of the brothers could be accused of being a stowaway, which is a federal crime and punishable up to five years in prison.

Meanwhile, the airline could face hefty fines from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection for allowing the passenger on board and failing to make an accurate headcount.

While we don’t know for sure that there was intent here, it sure sounds to me like there was. I imagine the brothers knew they were on different flights, or else they wouldn’t have created duplicate boarding passes and tried to board the same flight. I imagine they thought it would be more fun to fly together, and that there was no harm in trying, and didn’t think that they would end up causing a national news story, a diversion, and potentially getting criminal charges filed against them.

This also explains how they managed to board the plane. Presumably when the second passenger went to scan the boarding pass it showed the passenger as already boarded. However, after verifying the ticket and passport, they probably assumed it was a tech glitch. Then the crew verified the boarding pass at the door, since it was a valid boarding pass. The only remaining question is how the crew didn’t catch this during the seat count, but I guess when you’re counting hundreds of people it’s easy to be off by one.

I’ll be curious to see how this further unfolds.

Comments
  1. “However, after verifying the ticket and passport, they probably assumed it was a tech glitch.”

    Brother #1 boards with the correct boarding pass and passport. Brother #2 boards with the duplicate boarding pass and wrong passport. So the gate agent maybe thinks “oh this guy already boarded” and then decides to allow the wrong passport by simply ignoring the name differences? In other words, the process of matching the exact name on ticket to exact name on passport failed. So in that scenario the gate agent was negligent.

    The headcount issue is also really troublesome. I wonder if the Japanese authorities were made aware of an incorrect headcount mid-flight, and/or if somehow the flight crew started discussing why the passenger count was off by one and suddenly panicked that they hadn’t done their jobs correctly. In that scenario the flight crew were negligent.

    Wonder if anyone is going to lose their job as a result?

  2. So I wonder if the brother booked on the United flight cancelled that ticket after going through security which would be another layer of pre-mediated criminal activity. Imagine getting a bill from ANA for 8 hours of flight cost on this aircraft. If I was ANA I would just bill him the amount and go after him for the money. It’s not like this was an accident.

  3. @Steven M
    I assume that the brother with the wrong passport boarded first and didn’t get his passport fully checked by the gate agent (as this is pretty often the case), then the brother with the matching passport went through since it would be easy for him to argue it must just be a glitch.

    Another layer of this could be if they actually tried to alter the name on the boarding pass so each brother held a BP which matched his passport on paper. That would be full on premeditation though and probably lead to more charges.

  4. I do not think ANA usually counts pax no. on economy cabin manually after door close. Just they check the no. of pax on PNL and checked at boarding gate.

  5. If the first names were similar, then it would be easy for the boarding agent to make a mistake. The brain will correct simple errors, especially if they are unsuspecting of two brothers with similar names trying to get on. I bet you they were probably also dressed alike.

  6. Betcha this wasn’t the first time for these two to played this game. Head count can be gamed by ducking out of sight (visiting the loo but not lock the door so appears unoccupied). Who wants to bet the UA ticket was cancelled once they snuck on to the ANA flight?

  7. Another ridiculous Japanese decision – go back.

    Why not stop in Anchorage or Honolulu or even Seattle, at that point, and let him off?

    Or just hold him in “custody” on the flight and have him arrested in Japan?

    Another dumb decision but what can you expect from ANA.

  8. @Joe: yes, that’s what I don’t get. But maybe they were trying to avoid both dying if they were on a single plane that crashed or something.

  9. I have the same first and last name as my brother, the only difference is our middle name, which we hardly use. I guess if we don’t put our middle name in 2 different reservations, then there would be 2 boarding passes with the same first and last name? We could easily swap our passport and identity and travel around(as long as fingerprint isn’t needed) if we wanted (we are law abiding so we wouldn’t such thing though), and we are not even twins.

  10. Getting a duplicate boarding pass is easy – print at home and get one at the airport for example. That said, it would indeed be a federal crime if Lucky’s information is correct. Also, the airline would take a hit as well for failure to properly render a correct head count and permitting unauthorized boarding of a passenger, a big security failure post 911. It is indeed easy to get the head count off by one, but if that’s the case the chief purser is informed and they do the count again until they get right. Before the departure the chief purser informs the captain that head count is completed and correct, if it’s not then the captain should tell the purser to count again. That’s the rules. Sure rushing might play a factor to get a flight going, but that’s where accidents, mistakes take place. Again, if this is what the brothers did it was a very stupid and serious decision and should not go unpunished. It also shows a big loophole in the system that must be closed now!

  11. Joe, maybe it was booked with FF points, and there wasn’t availability with NH, so the other brother booked United, which was available or cheaper.

    Not saying it’s the definite reason, but there are ‘reasons’ for them to do that.

  12. Did they have separate seat assignments on the duplicate boarding passes?

    I think it will be easy to prove intent from a number of different angles. And if they do, both brothers should be charged.

  13. Both brothers deserved to be punished, not just the one that boarded without the legitimite boarding pass. The accomplice is equally guilty too. If these 2 are let off without a heavy punishment, it will prompt some other idiots to try doing it too in the future.

  14. It looks like NH175 and UA32 are departing exactly at the same time 10:45 am. Moreover, both flights are code shared (i.e., there is ANA flight operated by UA and UA flight on ANA metal). When brothers were buying tickets it could be an honest mistake that they booked different flights. Also printing and reprinting boarding passes and mixing those could easily happen. At the end, this could be just an honest mistake. About 20 years we pulled out the gate from BWI and taxied for 10 min before USAir pilot announced that we are finally ready to take off for JAX. Only then a passenger on board realized that he is on a wrong plane – he thought he was flying to an airport in New Hampshire. This was in December. We have to go back to the gate and deplane the passenger. Flight was delayed by 30 min

  15. Tom – No, no custodial sentence seems like a fair punishment for this. Neither for the criminal, nor the public who will need to spend thousands upon thousands of tax dollars facilitating it…

    Though, this is of course America, the supposedly amazing Christian country that puts such a low value on human life…

  16. Maybe the broters did it to save some money, or it was some kind of prank.
    I guess ANA realized the stowaway after serving food – there was one more consumed than expected – then they started another headcount …

  17. People are such schmucks. Who would do that ? I hope they go to prison unless they are wealthy enough to amass hefty legal fees for just a slap on the wrist.

  18. Wow, reading the comments here feels like facing a lynch mob. Come on, so much presumption based on such little information!
    While this may have been intentional, I agree with Alex77W that an honest mistake is also a possibility. To this day, the general public really doesn’t get codeshares, much less when two flights depart at exactly the same time, which seems kinda dumb in the first place. I can see them booking the flights in restricted economy only to later find out that they’re actually booked on two different planes.
    Passport checks aren’t that thorough either – in many European airports you go through automated self-boarding gates which don’t check ID at all. And if everything seems legit at first glance, it’s easy to assume a tech glitch.
    Let’s see how the investigation pans out. The one open question here is why return to LAX? That made matters so much worse.

  19. I am not sure I am necessarily buying the argument about an honest mistake.
    Stupidity (and failure to realise the consequences) may be a better explanation.

    Please, note that this also involved an =international= flight, so criminal charges may potentially be laid not only because of airline security related issues, but also =immigration= violations.

    United States does not have passport controls on departure (unlike majority of other countries).
    A person is considered to have left the US when an international airline reports that a person boarded an international flight and the flight took off.
    When a passenger sneaks onboard of an international flight unaccounted, they clearly violate immigration laws (regardless of their citizenship).
    This is probably another reason why ANA has decided to turn the flight around.
    Not returning to the United States would have facilitated an immigration violation.

  20. I don’t understand the notion of “this would’ve been caught at the door! how could this happen?”

    Even without the duplicate boarding passes, it’s possible.. On a late night flight from LAX to HKG my girlfriend was late running behind me to catch a CX flight – she ended up going to the wrong gate and since she was running, they didn’t bother to stop her to check her boarding pass. She didn’t turn around until she got a phone call from me asking where she was while she was on the jetway. These things do happen. Now, she would’ve noticed immediately she was on the wrong flight if she had gotten all the way to the aircraft – but most people flying probably don’t know the difference between CX and JAL.

  21. There are three flights LAX – NRT on Tuesdays, two on NH 777-300ERs, one on UA 787-9 (Checked Jan 9th,2018)

    UH175 (UA7925) – Depart: 10:45
    UA032 (NH7019) – Depart: 11:00
    UH005 (UA7945) – Depart: 11:25

    (As an aside, United wants 633 USD, ANA wants 56760 JPY (~502 USD) for a one-way on any of these.)

    Possible that one buddy was booked on NH175 flight, and the other one on NH005?

    Then the ticket stock is exactly the same, except for the flight number, and someone might have gotten confused what flight they are checking?

    Probably there were empty seats in economy, so one or both of pax moved to seat near each-other.

    Probably do not speak Japanese, so the FAs did not want to re-ask, anything, since it didn’t look too suspicious, and Japanese are notoriously self-conscious.

    The question now is, was the other ticket cancelled or not. If not, honest mistake, boo ground staff and flight attendants didn’t check the tickets/headcount (FA generally check where you seat, and not the flight number, to direct you to the near or far aisle any way)

  22. Did they actually represent a present danger to someone at the point they were discovered? I simply can’t see turning around and wasting all that time for everyone. Have someone arrested in Japan, or put them on the next flight back to be arrested upon return.

  23. @Alex77, @Juraj,

    The two flights didn’t have exactly the same departure time just similar. They also left from different terminals at LAX. While you can connect to TBIT after security, it would require some effort ie, hard to believe his was accidental. The duplicate boarding passes make this extremely suspicious. The fact the two people were brothers makes it even more unlikely this was a mistake.

    This is not a Lynch mob mentality, the number of decisions that had to be made to get on this plane was extreme – this seems very deliberate. If it was then criminal charges are def in order.

    ANA also deserves a severe slap on the wrist. Even if they didn’t do a manual check, the PNL should not have matched the boarding pass count which implies nobody bothered to check at all for hours….

  24. @Kerry,
    when I checked an upcoming day in Dec (don’t remember which one) on flightstats.com the flights were departing exactly at the same time. I did not check the exact day of departure though – the time of departure of the same flight could be different depending the day of the week.
    Going to different part of the terminal is a common mistake. This year I was dropped at a wrong terminal at PEK airport by a Chinese taxi driver who insisted in broken English that it is the terminal I have to be in in order to catch Cathay/Cathay Dragon flight.
    Regarding the turn around, it is possible that someone on the ground at LAX responsible for final paperwork for the departed flight and filing with US Customs and Border Protection, realized that a mistake was made…

  25. Maybe they have been doing this awhile? It would be interesting to check if they have gotten different tickets on different airlines before and there has been cancellations of one flight after one flight goes off but both appear abroad at hotel or end of that flight. Interesting case to investigate. Is it their first rodeo?

  26. ‘When a passenger sneaks onboard of an international flight unaccounted, they clearly violate immigration laws (regardless of their citizenship)‘

    You can leave the US at any time. No law prevents that.

  27. As Lucky says, how this develops will be interesting.

    My experience of large Japanese corporations operating both at home in Japan and abroad, suggests heads will roll within ANA and at its LAX contract handling agent.

    The Japanese do not like to lose face – this incident makes the airline look inept – or money and I can see one or more managers and/or senior cabin/flight crew facing, at the minimum, a stern inquisition and, at worse, a request to resign.

    12 years ago, the aftermath of this rail crash [https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amagasaki_rail_crash], obviously far more serious than this inconvenient ANA incident, lifted the lid on the pressures and humiliation a major Japanese employer was able to inflict on employees who did not meet extremely demanding standards. I wouldn’t be any of that ANA crew till this investigation is done.

    I’ve had some very enjoyable flights on ANA with great courtesy, professionalism and attention to detail from the FAs. Someone clearly dropped the ball this time. I wonder if we’ll see changes to the airline’s pre- and post-boarding procedures?

  28. Just talking possibilities – IF the brothers did not cancel the United Airlines ticket – maybe UA was looking for a missing passenger who had checked in or checked in luggage and finally checked with ANA to see if ANA had him. That could be a possible explanation for the 4 hour delay.

  29. Like almost every commenter I wonder why they did not just continue to Japan and detain the stowaway there .
    As Steve wondered I also want to know if the passengers receive reasonable compensation .
    Let’s consider 8 hours by 226 passengers by $250 per hour ( it was an all lawyers flight ) equals $452,000 or $226,000 per brother . They should be wearing ankle bracelets until they have paid in full . ANA should pay the passengers and seek reimbursement from the smartasses .
    Oh , and no fly for ever .

  30. Would the passengers have wanted the flight to continue flying to Tokyo if they knew someone who wasn’t supposed to be there was with them? Would they have thought “This is cute. We have someone who made a mockery of the departure system, meal order, and security and my fate over the Pacific for the next eight hours or so could be in his hands.” if they knew? Worse, if the flight went on, a nightmare unfolded, and we learn from Air Crash Investigation that the incident could have been averted by turning back? Would many of you still think that it was an error to go back? This blog might be followed by elite flyers (I wish we can disclose who pays and who reimburses) but common sense is…

  31. Regardless of what happened I will never understand why the response was turning around rather than zip tying the guy to a food cart and continuing on to the correct destination.

  32. @mike murphy Okay seat count/head count – either way, wonder why Lucky thinks they’re done? Or is this some outdated US practise?

  33. I don’t believe airlines do seat or head counts on flights that use an aerobridge to board. Some commuter flights might if pax board across the tarmac. I believe it was a deliberate action however a naive one with the codeshare issue thinking that somehow it wouldn’t matter. Would be interesting to hear if the brother on UA was a gate noshow or did he get a boarding pass the day prior then cancel the UA flight and get a refund. Was the UA ticket a paid or award ticket? When TSA scan a QR code boarding pass would they know if you had cancelled the flight after you had checked in? Is it possible for two people to get through TSA using the same boarding pass whether a QR code or printed one or is their system like an airline gate reader with an ‘already processed’ beep if that boarding pass was to be scanned a second time.

  34. I can confirm that airlines actually do head counts and match against scanned boarding passes. I was on an AA flight in November that pulled away from the gate, then sat, and sat, and sat on the tarmac out of the way while they tried to figure out why there was a mismatch between the headcount and scanned boarding passes. We went back to the gate at DCA and customer service reps got on and went through the passenger manifest to identify the one individual who didn’t scan his boarding pass when he got on. Never should have happened, but it did. We finally took off almost 2 hours late thanks to the guy that never scanned his boarding pass.

  35. Did they sit together? That would have been interesting and I wonder if another person ratted them out on the plane. If one brother asked to sit next to his brother I could see someone giving up that seat. If there was another seat they would have been directed to that seat by the brother. The flight attendant comes through the cabin and notices a person is now sitting in a seat that was not filled according to the chart. When asking that passenger, the passenger says she switched seats with X because he’s flying with his brother. FA goes up front and starts his/her investigation and figures out something is not correct. The FA asks a few questions, checks the manifest again and realizes a mistake has been made. Now, Chrissy Teagon needs to chill out over her rant – I’m sure they were sitting in First Class. I’m more concerned with others who missed connecting flights or cruises or other travel itineraries – although I always go at least one if not two days earlier in case things like this out of my control happen. I can always get delayed returning to work, but NEVER going on Vacation.

  36. @DCYukon the bigger question is why did AA let that flight push back from the gate in the first place when a pax would’ve appeared as a gate noshow?

    Is AA’s fail to board procedure not to do a visual check of the seat first, then if pax is in their seat staff manually board them and close the flight?

    How can AA even close boarding when a pax is showing as not boarded? Not the fault of the pax if the gate agent didn’t scan the boarding pass properly – they were probably doing a boarding call at the same time.

    If the gate closes at T-10 there should’ve been adequate time to do a seat check and still get the flight out on time.

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