FORT LAUDERDALE (ABC NEWS) — Former New York Sen. Al D’Amato was escorted off a JetBlue flight from Fort Lauderdale to New York last night after he “lost patience” with several passengers who refused to move their seats to help balance the plane, his spokesperson tells ABC News.
According to passengers on board JetBlue flight 1002 –- which had already been delayed more than five hours –- the captain asked 10 passengers from the plane’s first nine rows to move to the back of the aircraft due to “weight and balance issues.”
When only a few would budge, D’Amato, 79, got up to encourage them to move, the passengers said. Only a couple more did. Eventually, the Senator “lost patience” and confronted the captain, demanding that he force the remaining passengers to move.
Not long after, Broward County Sheriff’s Deputies boarded and escorted D’Amato off the aircraft, which was still at the gate.
“We can still speak in this country,” he told passengers as he deplaned, according to a video of the incident posted on D’Amato’s twitter feed. “Stand up for what’s right, and walk out with me.”
At least one man followed D’Amato off the plane, the video showed.
“The decision to remove a customer from a flight is not taken lightly. If a customer is causing a conflict on the aircraft, it is standard procedure to ask the customer to deplane, especially if the crew feels the situation runs a risk of escalation in-flight,” JetBlue said in a statement.
“Anyone who knows Senator D’Amato knows he speaks his mind – but in this case he spoke after a long and demanding trip to Florida to visit an ailing friend, a five hour airport ground delay, additional delays as the crew sought to deal with weight and balance issues and then sleep deprivation,” D’Amato’s spokesperson said.
The rep added that the airline apologized for “overreacting” and the senator apologized for speaking out “when he clearly had left his patience at the gate.”
ABC News’ Jenny Hansler and Katie Bosland contributed to this report.