In November 2021, a video supposedly showing a passenger being removed from a flight after complaining that her seatmate wasn’t vaccinated went viral on social media. One posting on TikTok from Anjelo Tavera (Jeloy_25) racked up more than 35 million views:
This video does not show a genuine, real-world incident.
As first noted by the Twitter account Hoaxeye, this is a scripted and staged short film called “Covid Flight.” According to IMBD, the passenger in this video is played by Diana Winter, the pilot is played by Sean Pogmore, and the movie was directed by Jamie Hull-Greenwood.
The film was produced by Richard Williams, better known by his stage name “Prince Ea,” who originally shared this clip to Facebook under the caption: “VAXXED OR UNVAXXED, NO ONE SHOULD BEHAVE LIKE THIS 😱 😱.” This caption was later revised to include a “for entertainment purposes” tag.
Hull-Greenwood also acknowledged that this was a film production, not a candid video documenting a genuine incident on a plane, when he posted a selfie with the crew on Instagram:
While this is clearly a scripted short film, not a candid video of a genuine incident aboard a plane, this context was often omitted as it was circulated online. The conservative nonprofit Turning Point USA, for example, posted this video on YouTube under the title “WATCH: Woman FREAKS OUT Over Unvaccinated Passenger On Plane.”
One reason people may have been taken in by this video — in addition to the fact that media outlets presented it without proper context — is that it somewhat resembles genuine pieces of candid footage that captured altercations over COVID-19 rules on planes. Most of those incidents, however, involved people who refused to comply with mask mandates, not people who insisted that others wear masks or get vaccinated.
In August 2021, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced that it had levied more than $1 million in fines to unruly passengers, including close to 3,000 incidents involving passengers who refused to comply with mask mandates.
Here are a few of the incidents listed by the FAA:
The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has proposed another $531,545 in civil penalties against 34 airline passengers for alleged unruly behavior, bringing the total for 2021 to more than $1 million. Since Jan. 1, 2021, the FAA has received approximately 3,889 reports of unruly behavior by passengers, including about 2,867 reports of passengers refusing to comply with the federal facemask mandate.
- $42,000 against a passenger on a May 16, 2021, jetBlue Airways flight from Queens, N.Y., to San Francisco, Calif., for allegedly interfering with crewmembers after failing to comply with the facemask mandate; making non-consensual physical contact with another passenger; throwing a playing card at a passenger and threatening him with physical harm; making stabbing gestures towards certain passengers; and snorting what appeared to be cocaine from a plastic bag, which the cabin crew confiscated. The passenger became increasingly agitated and the crew equipped themselves with flex cuffs and ice mallets to ensure the safety of the flight if his behavior worsened. The flight diverted to Minneapolis, Minn., where law enforcement removed the passenger from the aircraft.
- $29,000 against a passenger on an April 12, 2021, jetBlue Airways flight from Boston, Mass., to Orlando, Fla., for allegedly interfering with crewmembers after refusing to comply with the facemask mandate. She also shouted obscenities at the flight crew, and intentionally bumped into a seated passenger on her way to the lavatory. When the seated passenger objected to this behavior, she punched the passenger in the face. Law enforcement met the aircraft at the gate.
- $19,000 against a passenger on a Feb. 11, 2021, American Airlines flight from Miami, Fla., to Nashville, Tenn., for allegedly interfering with crewmembers after refusing to comply with the facemask mandate; ignoring the fastened seatbelt sign; and pushing a flight attendant into another passenger with his hip.
- $17,530 against a passenger on an April 16, 2021, jetBlue Airways flight from San Diego, Calif., to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., for allegedly interfering with crewmembers after failing to comply with the facemask mandate; vaping on the aircraft; and drinking alcohol not served by the airline. Law enforcement met him at the gate.
- $17,000 against a passenger on a Feb. 28, 2021, Republic Airlines flight from Key West, Fla., to Charlotte, N.C., for allegedly interfering with crewmembers after failing to comply with the facemask mandate; drinking alcohol not served by the airline; and attempting to use a vape pen. The aircraft returned from the gate and she was removed from the aircraft.
It’s also worth noting that Jake Cauty, who’s listed as one of the producers for “COVID Flight” on the movie’s IMDB page, talked about all of the COVID-19 precautions that take place on his film sets during a February 2021 interview:
“We’ve got rapid Covid tests we offer actors that we do ourselves before we do any filming and we’re distanced on set, everyone’s masked and covered head to toe in sanitiser. We clean the location before we go in and we clean up when we leave”
“Building on a Billion Views | Prize-Winning JPC Film.” D&CFilm, 10 Feb. 2021, https://www.devon-cornwall-film.co.uk/2021/02/10/building-on-a-billion-views-prize-winning-jake-cauty-film/.
Carter, Simone. “Help Us, Amadeus: People Keep Going Wild on Airplanes, and the Feds Want It to Stop.” Dallas Observer, https://www.dallasobserver.com/news/airlines-experiencing-increase-in-passenger-assaults-during-covid-19-12776482. Accessed 10 Nov. 2021.
Dickson, E. J. “A Bogus Anti-Vaccine Video of a ‘Karen’ on a Plane Is Going Viral on TikTok.” Rolling Stone, 8 Nov. 2021, https://www.rollingstone.com/culture/culture-news/plane-vaccine-karen-tiktok-video-1255009/.
FAA Fines Against Unruly Passengers Reach $1M | Federal Aviation Administration. https://www.faa.gov/newsroom/faa-fines-against-unruly-passengers-reach-1m. Accessed 10 Nov. 2021.
“Fact Check-Video of Unmasked Plane Passenger Complaining about Unvaccinated Passenger Is Fictional.” Reuters, 10 Nov. 2021. www.reuters.com, https://www.reuters.com/article/factcheck-plane-unmaskedpassengerfiction-idUSL1N2S11Q1.