What Happened On AirTran Airways Flight 297


Update: AirTran Flight 297: Man Who Wrote E-mail Not On Plane Say’s Airline Read Post

Last month, AirTran Airways Flight 297 with over 70 passengers on board was taxiing down the runway when a passenger reportedly refused to turn off his cell phone. After repeated attempts to have the passenger end the phone conversation, the captain returned to the gate, resulting in a 2 1/2 hour delay of the flight.

When the news story appeared online, comments included the text of an email from a man claiming to have been a passenger on the flight gave a very different account of what took place. We’ve attempted to contact individuals mentioned in the articles below, however none have responded to our requests, as of  this writing.

A number of accounts describing what took place have appeared on various blogs and websites. We’ve included a few of them here.  As I have stated, we’ve been unable as of yet to independently confirm details.

UPDATE 12/014/09 12:18am: Debbie Schlussel has updated her blog to confirm she received a call this evening from Tedd Petruna confirming he wrote the email featured in the comments section of the article below.

The News Story

AirTran Airways says a flight from Atlanta to Houston with more than 70 passengers on board was delayed when a passenger refused to end a cell phone call.

AirTran spokesman Christopher White told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that Flight 297, a Boeing 717, was taxiing on the runway in Atlanta Tuesday afternoon when a crew member asked a passenger to turn off his phone.

White says that after several failed attempts by the crew member to end the conversation, the captain returned the plane to the gate.

White says the passenger complied when he was asked to get off the plane. He says no charges were filed, and that the plane departed for Houston 2 ½ hours later.


Comment featured on the site in response to the article (can be seen here )

This was MUCH more than a man with a cell phone! See this story of the TRUTH! One week ago, I went to Ohio on business and to see my father. On Tuesday, November the 17th, I returned home. If you read the papers the 18th you may have seen a blurb where a AirTran flight was cancelled from Atlanta to Houston due to a man who refused to get off of his cell phone before takeoff. It was on Fox. This was NOT what happened. I was in 1st class coming home. 11 Muslim men got on the plane in full attire. 2 sat in 1st class and the rest peppered themselves throughout the plane all the way to the back. As the plane taxied to the runway the stewardesses gave the safety spiel we are all so familiar with. At that time, one of the men got on his cell and called one of his companions in the back and proceeded to talk on the phone in Arabic very loudly and very aggressively. This took the 1st stewardess out of the picture for she repeatedly told the man that cell phones were not permit

To which one of the men said “shut up infidel dog!” She went to take the camcorder and he began to scream in her face in Arabic. At that exact moment, all 11 of them got up and started to walk the cabin. This is where I had had enough! I got up and started to the back where I heard a voice behind me from another Texan twice my size say “I got your back.” I grabbed the man who had been on the phone by the arm and said “you WILL go sit down or you Will be thrown from this plane!” As I “led” him around me to take his seat, the fellow Texan grabbed him by the back of his neck and his waist and headed out with him. I then grabbed the 2nd man and said, “You WILL do the same!” He protested but adrenaline was flowing now and he was going to go. As I escorted him forward the plane doors open and 3 TSA agents and 4 police officers entered. Me and my new Texan friend were told to cease and desist for they had this under control. I was happy to oblige actually.

There was some commotion in the back, but within moments, all 11 were escorted off the plane. They then unloaded their luggage. We talked about the occurrence and were in disbelief that it had happen, when suddenly, the door open again and on walked all 11!! Stone faced, eyes front and robotic (the only way I can describe it). The stewardess from the back had been in tears and when she saw this, she was having NONE of it! Being that I was up front, I heard and saw the whole ordeal. She told the TSA agent there was NO WAY she was staying on the plane with these men. The agent told her they had searched them and were going to go through their luggage with a fine tooth comb and that they were allowed to proceed to Houston. The captain and co-captain came out and told the agent “we and our crew will not fly this plane!” After a word or two, the entire crew, luggage in tow, left the plane. 5 minutes later, the cabin door opened again and a whole new crew walked on.

Again…..this is where I had had enough!!! I got up and asked “What the hell is going on!?!?” I was told to take my seat. They were sorry for the delay and I would be home shortly. I said “I’m getting off this plane”. The stewardess sternly told me that she could not allow me to get off. (now I’m mad!) I said “I am a grown man who bought this ticket, who’s time is mine with a family at home and I am going through that door, or I’m going through that door with you under my arm!! But I am going through that door!!” And I heard a voice behind me say “so am I”. Then everyone behind us started to get up and say the same. Within 2 minutes, I was walking off that plane where I was met with more agents who asked me to write a statement. I had 5 hours to kill at this point so why the hell not. Due to the amount of people who got off that flight, it was cancelled. I was supposed to be in Houston at 6pm. I got here at 12:30am.

Look up the date. Flight 297 Atlanta to Houston. If this wasn’t a dry run, I don’t know what one is. The terrorists wanted to see how TSA would handle it, how the crew would handle it, and how the passengers would handle it. I’m telling this to you because I want you to know…. The threat is real. I saw it with my own eyes…. -Tedd Petruna

A second account appeared on The New England Review and is attributed to a Chaplin. Again, we have been unable to confirm it’s authenticity.

Air Tran Flight 297 Incident – Chaplain Dr. Keith A. Robinson

Air Tran Airways Flight 297 was scheduled to leave Atlanta at 4:43PM in route to Houston Hobby Airport. Because of my position as Corps Commander of the Houston Regional Community Chaplain Corps, I frequently wear my Chaplain jacket as I travel. Like some sort of heavenly magnet, the Chaplain jacket invites discussion with a wide variety of people who are struggling with issues in need of a comforting ear. My connecting flight was late and the door to the jet way closed prior to my boarding. So, even though I was rescheduled on a much later flight far from C?16 I settled down with a newspaper and only 1/4th of my remaining cell phone battery.

While waiting at the distant gate, I noticed on the scheduling monitors that Flight 297 had returned to gate C?16 and was scheduled to leave at 5:45PM. I hurried back to gate C?16 in hopes of boarding my original flight after it strangely returned to the gate.

Upon arriving at the gate I noticed that there was a look of solemn concern on the faces of the gate attendants. I asked if I could get on flight 297 when they returned to the gate. Their faces indicated a distinct level of stress that let everyone in the seating area knew that there was a problem on board. When I approached them a few moments later I said, “I am a Chaplain. Is there some way that I can be of help?” They said, “No.” Obviously, an event had occurred that they would not talk about.

Over the next thirty minutes officials from Air Tran started arriving at the gate, flashing their badges and going down to the plane.

Read Full PDF

…and then there is this account that is quite different than the others from yet another passenger…

FAA to investigate cell phone use on Atlanta flight
The Federal Aviation Administration is investigating what led to the two-and-a-half hour delay of a Tuesday flight from Atlanta to Houston, an agency spokeswoman said Wednesday morning.

An AirTran spokesman said a man traveling with a group Tuesday afternoon refused to turn his cell phone off before takeoff. But the woman sitting behind the man said it wasn’t a phone at all, and feels the entire incident was the result of poor communication.

“He was not talking on a cell phone, it was a camera,” said Nancy Deveikis of Marietta. “He was looking at pictures.”

A flight attendant asked the man twice to turn off the device, Deveikis said. But it was clear the man did not speak English, she said. Although the man was traveling with others, the rest of the group was seated throughout the plane.

When the man did not respond to the flight attendant, she took the camera from him, Deveikis said. Deveikis, who presented ajc.com with her boarding pass for the flight, said she watched the exchange from directly behind the man in seat 28A and the female flight attendant.

“She grabbed it from his hand and basically said I’ll be holding this until you get off the plane,”Deveikis said.

Read Full Article

From an aviation blog, this post lists additional details not mentioned in the other accounts.

Airline Travel…What You Really Need To Know!!!

An AirTran passenger, who was traveling with 12 others, was using his cell phone before takeoff, an airline spokesman said.

It’s unclear whether he was talking on the phone, snapping photos or texting, AirTran spokesman Christopher White said. But to airline officials and flight attendants, it didn’t matter. The plane had pulled away from the gate, and the phone was on, White said. “Passengers are required to follow instructions of the flight attendants,” regional FAA spokeswoman Kathleen Bergen said.

AirTran reported the incident to the FAA, Bergen said.The federal Transportation Security Administration will not handle the incident, saying it is a customer-service issue between the passenger and the airline, a TSA spokesman said Houston-bound Flight 297 was scheduled to leave Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport at 4:40 p.m. Tuesday.

The Boeing 717 was taxiing on the runway when a crew member asked a passenger to turn off his phone, White said. “Flight attendants were telling him, ‘Turn off the phone, turn off the phone,’” White said. But the man didn’t speak English, which complicated the matter, officials said.

Once the pilot learned of the issue, he turned the plane around and headed back to the gate. The man was asked to leave, White said. “We can’t taxi with the cell phone on, and we certainly can’t take off,” White said. “Language barrier or not, you start to butt up against interfering with a flight crew.”

Another person in the group – someone who could speak English – got off as well to act as an interpreter, White said. So, why didn’t he leave his seat to help in the first place? “He told flight attendants that he could have helped during the taxi time, but he didn’t want to get up,” as passengers are to be seated at that time, White said.

The remaining 11 passengers in that group followed them off the plane as well, White said. “It’s a fine line that we have to play,” White said. “Is there any safety or security reason to bring the plane back? Yes, there was a safety reason.” AirTran gave the 72 other passengers on the plane the option to stay on that flight or switch to another one without paying any fees, White said. Of the remaining passengers on the plane, 12 decided to take another flight.

The 11 others in the 13-passenger group got back on the plane, which took off for Houston, White said. TSA officials spoke to the man with the cell phone as well as the other person who was acting as an interpreter, and they took a later flight to Houston, White said. White declined to identify the passenger. No charges were filed. And, for AirTran, the case is closed.


So what happened on Flight 297? I’m not sure. It’s either an incredible news event the media has completely overlooked, or an amazing tale based upon an actual occurrence. You’ll have to decide for yourself. It’s also possible that the stories may not conflict at all as each individual is providing their account from a different vantage point.

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