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Pepper spray goes off on United Airlines plane at RSW Airport

Several passengers evacuated the plane
Posted at 7:53 PM, Feb 23, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-26 10:24:04-05

LEE COUNTY — A man sprayed pepper spray on a plane at Southwest Florida International Airport, causing several passengers to get off.

The Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) confirmed with Fox 4 its agents missed the canister of spray during pre-check. The man carrying it was able to board United flight 1061 to Newark, NJ Monday.

Joseph Grande tells us the plane was already in motion and they were 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," said Grande.

Grande said, 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," said Grande.

TSA tells us people 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," said Grande.

But Grande said, once they were in the terminal, the staff with United 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," said Grande.

We reached out to United about the incident, and the company responded, saying "On Monday, United flight 1061 from Fort Myers, Florida to Newark, NJ returned to the gate due to a disruptive incident involving a customer prior to take off. Soon after, the flight safely departed for Newark." The company did not respond to our 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 can’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," said Grande.

TSA tells us they gave a refresher course to their agents at RSW to make sure they know how to spot pepper spray canisters in the future.