An Oregon man is facing charges after he tried to open the emergency door on a Delta flight, in air, in hopes that the disturbance would cause passengers to video him so he could “share his thoughts on COVID-19 vaccines.”
On Friday, Feb. 11, Michael Brandon Demarre was on a Delta flight from Salt Lake City to Oregon, when midflight he attempted to open the airplane’s emergency exit.
Demarre removed the plastic covering on the emergency exit handle, then pulled on it “with his full body weight,” according to court records.
A flight attendant told Demarre to stop, which he did, then directed him to the back of the plane. Demarre was seated and physically restrained, the probable cause statement reads.
Four passengers were then asked to watch Demarre, and prevent him from trying to open the exit again. According to court records, the disturbance required attention from flight attendants for the rest of the trip, and they were unable to perform their regular duties.
Demarre would later tell police that he caused a scene so passengers would film him, giving him a chance to share his thoughts on the COVID-19 vaccine.
What exactly those thoughts were is unclear. But the incident points to a larger trend of COVID-19-related flight disturbances.
Before the pandemic, unruly passengers — defined as a person who interferes with crew members’ jobs or intimidates, threatens or assaults them — were so rare that the Federal Aviation Administration didn’t even track them.
But in 2021, the FAA said it received more than 6,000 reports of unruly behavior, 4,300 of them stemming from mask requirements.
The reports led to more than 1,000 investigations in 2021.
And a survey conducted by the Association of Flight Attendants, a union that represents employees across 17 airlines, found that 85% of flight attendants dealt with unruly passengers in 2021. About 58% dealt with at least five incidents, while 17% experienced a physical incident, a figure the union calls “shocking.”
As of Tuesday, the FAA is reporting 394 reports of unruly passengers in 2022, most of them due to mask concerns. Add Demarre to the list.
The Oregon man is facing charges of interference and attempted interference with flight crew and attendants, and threats to interfere with a flight crew and attendants. Prosecutors say there were no reports that Demarre was intoxicated or on drugs.