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.