A pilot was removed from a United Airlines flight Saturday after she used the plane's intercom system to go on a bizarre rant ranging from her divorce to thoughts on President Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.
The strange comments rattled passengers, prompting dozens to walk off the plane as it prepared for takeoff from Austin–Bergstrom International Airport in Texas. Witnesses said the pilot called Trump and Clinton "assholes" and pointed out an interracial couple sitting in the cabin, causing passengers to question her ability to fly the plane.
"She said, 'Sorry I'm late, the reason I'm late is I'm going through a divorce,'" Randy Reiss, a passenger aboard the flight, told BuzzFeed News. "It quickly went from playful to scary."
The pilot seemed friendly at first, Reiss said, and some passengers even let out what sounded like empathetic "oh's and aw's" when she said she was going through a divorce.
But things took a turn when the pilot pointed out an interracial couple sitting in first class, Reiss said, making several passengers uncomfortable. She then said, "Look, I don't care if you voted for Trump or Clinton, they're both assholes," Reiss recalled.
In a video captured by a passenger during the incident, the pilot, who was not in her airline uniform but instead wearing a green blouse and green cap, can be heard acknowledging that some people on the plane appeared nervous.
"So I'll stop, and we'll fly the plane," she says. "Don't worry. I'm going to let my co-pilot fly it. He's a man."
The pilot laughs, but passengers can be heard talking nervously among themselves.
"OK, if you don't feel safe get off the plane, but otherwise we can go," she says.
Reiss, wearing a blue shirt, can be seen grabbing his bag and asking to be let off the plane.
"I asked one of the stewardesses, 'You feel safe with her?'" Reiss said. "She was like, 'She was cleared to fly.' And I said, 'I don't feel safe. Let me off.'"
At least 20 passengers asked to be let off the plane before the pilot was eventually escorted out and a new crew was brought in to complete the flight to its destination in San Francisco.
"People started to get pretty uncomfortable and several of us leave and she tells us we can leave if we want, but the flight needs to go," said Hayes Davis, a passenger traveling with his wife and 9-month-old daughter.
"She was clearly distressed," Davis said.
A spokesperson for United Airlines confirmed that the woman who made the comments was a pilot for the flight and said she was removed from the plane after concerns were raised.
"We have apologized to our customers for the inconvenience," the spokesperson said.
Both Davis and Reiss said the airline called for a new pilot to complete the flight to San Francisco, and they were given snacks and a meal voucher for the delay.
Davis said he felt bad for the pilot, who did seem to be going through some personal trouble.
"She was clearly going through something, but she shouldn't do it while flying my plane," he said.
Reiss said the pilot was escorted off the plane by uniformed officers, and he could see that she had been crying.
"She apologized, I hugged her, and I told her, 'You're going to be fine,'" Reiss said. "She was just in a bad place emotionally and should not have been flying."
As she was escorted away she turned back again, toward him.
"We should go on a show together," Reiss said the pilot told him. "We should write a book together."
A video captured by a passenger on the plane showing the pilot's actions has been removed from this post at the request of the owner. "I do not want be part of the shaming of another human being," the person said.
Salvador Hernandez is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Los Angeles.
Contact Salvador Hernandez at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Got a confidential tip? Submit it here.