United 737 Flight Delayed After Passenger Releases Pepper Spray

On Monday afternoon, a passenger on board a United Airlines flight from Fort Myers, Florida, released pepper spray from a canister the TSA had missed during pre-check. While it appears to have been an accident, the incident caused the flight to be delayed and the distress of other passengers who chose to vacate the plane.

United 737
A man and his pepper spray caused the delay of a Boeing 737 from Fort Myers on Monday. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

Bouts of coughing before take-off

On Monday, February 22nd, United Airlines‘ Flight UA1061 had left the gate and was getting ready for take-off when several passengers on board began coughing. This would be a stressful situation at any time, no less so during COVID.

However, it was not a sudden succumbing to the virus. Rather, a man seated in one of the exit rows had accidentally hit the small canister of pepper spray he carried on his key chain. According to WTVR, passengers, many of whom were coughing or experiencing burning sensations in their throats, were given the option to disembark.

Pepper spray is on the list of items that are prohibited to bring on board an aircraft. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) confirmed that agents had missed the canister with the forbidden aerosol during pre-check.

“On Monday, United flight 1061 from Fort Myers, Florida to Newark, New Jersey returned to the gate due to a disruptive incident involving a customer prior to take off,” a spokesperson for United said in a statement to Simple Flying. “Soon after, the flight safely departed for Newark.”

Pepper spray canister
The man was reportedly wearing the pepper spray canister on his key chain- Photo: Getty Images

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Close to two hours delay

Flight UA1061 was being operated by a Boeing 737-900ER with registration N66893. The five-year-old aircraft was scheduled to take off from Fort Myers Southwest Florida Airport for Newark, New Jersey, at 12:20 local time on Monday.

Due to the pepper spray incident, the plane took off one hour and 21 minutes late. All in all, it resulted in an arrival time of one hour and 40 minutes behind schedule to Newark.

Some passengers chose to leave the aircraft. However, during COVID, they could not just hop on a flight later in the day. Or even the following, as United is currently operating flights between Fort Myers and Newark only every other day. At least one passenger reported to Fox4 receiving little or no help from United for the extended stay in Florida.

United Boeing 737-900
The plane in question was a Boeing 737-900ER operating Flight UA1061. Photo: BriYYZ via Wikimedia Commons

While pepper spray is forbidden to take on board aircraft, it is considered legal in all 50 states of the US as a personal defense weapon. However, using pepper spray irresponsibly can incur criminal or civil liability. It contains somewhere between 2% and 20% capsaicin -the active component of chili pepper. It can cause temporary blindness, pain, breathing problems, and panic.

Have you ever had to turn around before take-off due to a disturbance on the plane? Did you ever come into contact with pepper spray? Tell us about it in the comments.