Soon after they boarded a flight to Honolulu, Mark and Donna Basden found a laptop computer in a seat pocket in front of them.
The couple assumed someone on a previous flight left it there. But a flight attendant said it probably belonged to a man who was in the bathroom.
A man Donna Basden described as a “disheveled looking fellow” emerged and Mark Basden gave him the laptop. The man scowled, took the laptop and opened it and closed it and then tried to sit in another first class seat, Mark Basden said.
Authorities say that moments later, the man — identified as Anil Uskanli, 25, of Turkey — had created so many problems on American Airlines Flight 31 on Friday from Los Angeles to Honolulu that he had to be immobilized with duct tape in a seat until the plane landed in Honolulu. Uskanli was taken into custody after the plane, escorted by two fighter jets, landed.
As authorities on Saturday investigated what happened, it was not clear whether Uskanli intended to harm anyone. He now faces a possible federal charge of interference with a flight crew, Paul Delacourt, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Honolulu office, told reporters in Hawaii.
Halfway through the six-hour flight, the Basdens saw the same man again holding his laptop with something over his head that they thought was a towel or a blanket.
“He was very quiet, moving very sluggish. He was trying to approach the cabin, like where the captain is,” said another passenger, Grant Arakelian.
At that point, a flight attendant ran down the aisle with her serving cart and blocked the entrance to first class, said passenger Lee Lorenzen, of Orange County, California.
“She jammed the cart in that the doorway and she just said, ‘You’re not coming in here,’” Lorenzen said.
The man pushed the cart, trying to get through but passengers came up behind him and grabbed him. He spent the rest of the flight restrained in a seat with duct tape.
“This unfortunate incident highlights the tremendous professionalism of American’s team members, and specifically, in this situation, our flight attendants,” American Airlines said in a statement. “Their decisive actions ensured the safety of everyone onboard the flight. We are proud of our crew and are grateful to them for their actions.”
Bob Ross, president of the Association of Professional Flight Attendants, on Saturday said attendants who represent the last line of air travel defense managed to “defuse a high-risk situation”
U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly was briefed on the midair disturbance, according to a statement from the department. There were no other reports of disruptions, but the department said it monitored all flights Friday as a precautionary measure.
Passengers among the 181 flying on Flight 31 staffed with six crew members took notice of Uskanli before the jet took off from Los Angeles.
Before he boarded the flight to Hawaii, Uskanli was also arrested at Los Angeles International airport for opening a door that led onto an airfield ramp, according to Los Angeles Airport police.
“He immediately walked up to somebody and said, ‘Where can I get something to eat?’ ” Los Angeles airport spokesman Rob Pedregon said. “He walked right up to somebody. He wasn’t trying to go somewhere or do something illicit.”
Though airport police smelled alcohol on Uskanli’s breath he was not intoxicated enough to be held for public drunkenness, so they cited and released him.
Uskanli provided police a home address in the affluent Santa Monica suburb of California. A Linkedin page for someone with his name says he attended film school in London until this year.
The incident was not that unusual, Pedregon said. “We have all these fire doors and people get confused because they’re walking around, and some people do breach it,” he said.