As the aircraft reached its cruising altitude, flight attendants became increasingly concerned with the passenger in seat 11D.
Felipe Neves Pinto-Moreira was causing a scene, according to federal court records, poking a fellow passenger, flipping off crew members and sticking his tongue out at the girl across the aisle.
A woman seated next to him asked to be moved.
His problem? Fear of flying mixed with alcohol, Pinto-Moreira later told authorities.
American Airlines flight 2415 had been en route to Los Angeles from Miami on July 4 when Pinto-Moreira’s antics prompted the pilot to arrange an unplanned stop in New Orleans, diverting the plane to Louis Armstrong International Airport and landing at about 8:35 p.m.
Having been removed from the aircraft, Pinto-Moreira told investigators he had taken some medication and consumed alcohol to cope with his flight anxiety.
He was booked on one federal count of “interference with flight crew members and attendants” and told to return to U.S. District Court later this month for a preliminary hearing.
The plane was cruising at 36,000 feet when a flight attendant alerted the pilot, Capt. Steve Paul, that a man in coach “appeared drunk and was punching and poking a fellow passenger in seat 12D,” FBI Agent William C. Williams wrote in a criminal complaint.
Pinto-Moreira became “verbally abusive” toward flight attendant Erik Davis, according to the complaint, and began “flipping him off numerous times.”
The crew tried to calm him down, but he became belligerent and began using profanity; passengers around him began to feel threatened.
“Moreira also stuck his tongue out and waved it at a girl across the aisle from him,” Williams wrote in the complaint.
A passenger next to Pinto-Moreira told the captain he had “struck him at least once in the stomach and once in the face,” though the man was not seriously injured and declined medical attention.
The captain later told investigators that American Airlines had incurred “considerable expenses” because of the unscheduled stop in New Orleans, including dumping at least 1,000 gallons of fuel in order to attain the “proper weight to land the aircraft,” plus landing fees and additional crew time.
Pinto-Moreira told authorities he did not remember what happened, saying he “ingested alcohol before boarding the aircraft in Miami and after taking off.” He told an investigator he recalled getting up to go to the rest room but did not remember anything else.
He’s been ordered to avoid alcohol altogether while awaiting trial.
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