A Los Angeles-to-New York Delta Airlines flight was routed to Salt Lake City International Tuesday after an Egyptian man ignored directives from a flight attendant, alarming the crew.
The man, who carried an Egyptian passport but reportedly lives in Riverside, Calif., refused to place a carry-on bag beneath his seat and ignited a cigarette lighter that looked like a cell phone, said Earl Morris, Transportation Safety Administration federal security director for Salt Lake City.
Flight 1968 — with 139 passengers and eight crew members — landed in Salt Lake City at 11:08 a.m., Delta spokesman Anthony Black said. Delta pilots have the authority to divert from the flight plan anytime they feel the safety of passengers or crew is in question, Black said.
The man, who was en route to Cairo and whose name was not released, was met on the ground by TSA officers and detained for questioning by FBI agents.
All other passengers were deplaned, and the aircraft searched for possible bombs or incendiary devices, Morris said. TSA security officers re-screened every passenger and crew members, along with all carry-on luggage. The plane's baggage compartment was emptied and also searched, Morris said.
Nothing was found by bomb technicians or bomb-trained dogs. The plane departed for New York's JFK airport at 1:15 p.m., without the Egyptian traveler aboard.
Questioned about the contents of his bag, the man said it contained "chocolate," FBI spokesman Bob Wright said. Agents later determined the bag contained numerous food items, but no items that are considered prohibited by the TSA for carrying on an airplane.
The man was detained for several hours but not arrested, Wright said.
"He has been questioned and the matter has been cleared," said Wright. "There are not charges to be filed from a criminal nature."
Wright could not say just how the problem with the man developed or if the situation was a misunderstanding or miscommunication between the traveler and the flight crew.
"Obviously the type of thing would be nerve-rattling to the flight crew. I think they did the right thing; better safe than sorry," said Wright.
Cigarette lighters are not among the hundreds of items the TSA prohibits passengers from carrying on their person or packing in their luggage while traveling, Morris said. Igniting a lighter, however, is prohibited. Airplanes are diverted to Salt Lake International for various safety reasons, including difficult or belligerent passengers, on an average of about once a month, Morris said.