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Pepper spray accidentally deployed on United Airlines plane preparing to leave Florida airport

Several passengers evacuated the plane
United Airlines Planes
Posted at 8:01 AM, Feb 24, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-24 08:01:52-05

LEE COUNTY, Fla. — A man accidentally deployed pepper spray on a flight preparing to leave Southwest Florida International Airport Monday, causing several passengers to get off the plane.

The Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) confirmed that agents missed the canister of spray during pre-check. The man carrying it was able to board United flight 1061 to Newark, New Jersey on Monday.

Passenger Joseph Grande said the plane was already in motion and was getting ready for take-off when people around him started coughing. He said it wasn’t long before he started feeling a burning in his throat.

"Everybody started coughing, and during COVID everybody starts looking around. I grabbed my mask," Grande said.

Grande said that within a few seconds, it became clear what the issue was.

"One of the gentlemen in the exit row, which was like two rows in front of me to my left, was like oh, I accidentally hit this thing on my key chain," Grande said.

TSA reports that passengers were given the option to get off the plane or to ride it out. Grande said his fiancé has asthma, and they didn’t want to risk it.

"She was still coughing, I still felt it. I was like, this isn’t going away. So that’s when we decided to hop off," Grande said.

But Grande said, once they were in the terminal, United Airlines staff weren’t able to help him out. He recorded the interaction on his cell phone.

"I was like, is there a taxi credit that I can use, or a hotel? And they’re like no, United didn’t inconvenience you, this is someone else. So technically we’re not even going to help you out," Grande said.

"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," United said in a statement. "Soon after, the flight safely departed for Newark."

The company did not respond to a question about Grande's request for a hotel or taxi voucher.

Thankfully, Grande was able to stay with a cousin who lives in Cape Coral. He just couldn't believe a can of pepper spray made it through security.

"My fiancé got patted down because of her knee surgery. She has a knee replacement, but yet this guy goes in with a pepper spray, which is on the list of weapons that you can’t go on with. So it’s just a wild vacation," Grande said.

TSA said they gave a refresher course to their agents at Southwest Florida International Airport to make sure they know how to spot pepper spray canisters in the future.

This story was originally published by Rob Manch on WFTX in Fort Myers, Florida.