NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – Former New York U.S. Senator Alfonse D’Amato was escorted off a JetBlue flight Monday night.
As CBS2 Political Reporter Marcia Kramer reported, D’Amato – a Republican – had a reputation in the U.S. Senate as something of a rabble-rouser. At age 79, that penchant speaking his mind seems to have earned him the heave-ho from the plane in Fort Lauderdale that was set to fly to John F. Kennedy International Airport.
The incident took place around 8 p.m. Monday night. It began after passengers on flight 1002 to New York were delayed for seven hours in the terminal, according to a passenger and D’Amato’s office.
After several hours delay, the passengers, including D’Amato, boarded the flight, passenger Jacqueline Galante told CBS2.
Once on board, they were delayed for another half an hour or so, until a member of the flight crew got on the intercom and asked if there were 10 passengers who’d be willing to move their seats to adjust the plane’s weight distribution, enabling them to take off, Galante said.
Some passengers did so, but apparently not enough, prompting D’Amato to get up from his seat at the rear of the plane and walk up and down the aisle – asking if anybody else would be willing to trade seats, according to Galante.
At some point, Galante said D’Amato spoke with members of the flight crew.
A few minutes later, members of the Broward County Sheriff’s Department boarded the plane and escorted D’Amato off the flight, Galante said.
“The decision to remove a customer from a flight is not taken lightly,” JetBlue said in a statement. “If a customer is causing a conflict on the aircraft, it is standard procedure to ask the customer to deplane, especially if the crew feels the situation runs a risk of escalation in-flight.”
Galante told CBS2 D’Amato wasn’t being disruptive and didn’t speak out loudly until the officers boarded the plane to remove him.
“He was talking not in a big raised voice or anything, just sort of like trying to encourage people; someone to volunteer so we can go,” Galante said.
D’Amato also talked with the flight crew, and although she did not hear the exchange, it was apparently enough to send him packing.
While he was being escorted off the flight, D’Amato piped up.
“We can still speak in this country, and what you’re doing to me. And I want to tell you this – I’ll make an appeal to all you people. You want to know what? Stand up for what’s right and walk out with me,” D’Amato said. “Stand up and walk out… If you don’t, what’ll you stand up for?”
At least one other passenger apparently got off the flight with D’Amato, Galante said.
D’Amato’s office defended the outspoken former senator.
“Anyone who knows Senator D’Amato knows he speaks his mind, but in this case he spoke after a long and demanding trip to Florida to visit an ailing friend, a five hour airport ground delay, additional delays as the crew sought to deal with weight and balance issues and then sleep deprivation,” D’Amato’s office said in a statement. “JetBlue has apologized to the Senator for overreacting and the Senator has apologized for speaking his mind at a time when he clearly had left his patience at the gate.”
JetBlue did refund D’Amato’s airfare, and like other passengers, he was given a $150 credit for the delay. His spokesman said he did not know whether the former senator would make use of the credit, or decide not to fly JetBlue again.
D’Amato was not expected to land in New York until late Tuesday.