Former Sen. Alfonse D’Amato (R-N.Y.), was kicked off a JetBlue flight on Monday, apparently after criticizing the captain’s actions during hours of delays.
As he was escorted off the plane by deputies, D’Amato tried to rally fellow passengers. Part of the incident at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport was caught on video.
“We can still speak in this country,” D’Amato, who served in the Senate from 1981 to 1999, said in the video. “I am making an appeal to all you people. You want to know why? Stand up for what’s right and walk out with me.”
Later, he added: “If you don’t have the cojones to stand up and walk out too, that’s your fault.”
At least one passenger appeared to leave with the 79-year-old ex-politician. Others could be heard jeering the police escorts.
Some of the passengers blamed the captain and the airline. Layla Delarmelina told Newsday the captain had asked some passengers from the front to move to the back of the plane for better weight distribution, but few people switched seats.
“The captain wasn’t doing anything so (D’Amato) got up and confronted the people in the front and asked them to go to the back,” Delarmelina was quoted as saying. “No one was moving so he flipped out on them.”
Jacqueline Galante, who also witnessed the incident, told the New York Daily News that D’Amato was speaking for the passengers who were frustrated by the delays.
“They shame-walked him to the front of the plane,” Galante told the newspaper. “He was not ranting and raving...If it happened to him, it could happen to anyone.”
D’Amato confronted the captain before leaving:
“Is this the captain?” D’Amato said.
“Yes sir,” the captain replied.
“You are a poor excuse,” he said. “If you were a leader, you would have had the two or three people who should have been sent back, sent back.”
“Thank you for your opinion,” the captain said.
A D’Amato spokesman told The New York Times that both the airline and the former senator later apologized.
“Anyone who knows Sen. D’Amato knows he speaks his mind,” Gary Lewi was quoted as saying. “JetBlue has apologized to the senator for overreacting, and the senator apologized for speaking his mind at a time when he clearly had left his patience at the gate.”
JetBlue did not comment on the specifics.
“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,” airline spokesman Morgan Johnston told the New York Post.