Jetstar flight turned back over phone dispute

A Jetstar aircraft at Changi Airport.
A Jetstar aircraft at Changi Airport. PHOTO: ST FILE

Police called in after three passengers got into spat; situation worsened by bomb scare

A dispute between three passengers over whether a mobile phone should be switched off in a plane, as well as a bomb scare that cropped up, caused a Jetstar flight from Singapore to Australia to be delayed.

Things got so serious that the police were called in.

Jetstar Flight 3K161 was supposed to depart Singapore at 11.20pm on Friday and arrive in Darwin at 5.20am on Saturday. Instead, it departed Singapore only at around 7.15am yesterday.

In response to queries from The Sunday Times, Jetstar Group spokesman Robin Goh yesterday said the plane returned to the gate while taxiing at Changi Airport.

It is understood that the dispute arose when an in-flight announcement was made for passengers to switch off their mobile phones.

A 55-year-old man, believed to be Filipino-Australian, told his neighbour, a 47-year-old Australian man, that he should switch his phone off.

The pair, along with the 55-year-old's wife, got into a heated argument, and the cabin crew told them they would have to alight from the plane if they did not resolve their dispute.

The police were called in when the quarrel escalated. The situation was further exacerbated when another passenger thought she heard one of the men say the word "bomb". However, she was the only one who appeared to have heard this. There was in fact no bomb.

The police yesterday said they were alerted to a case of public nuisance on board a flight departing Changi Airport at 11.26pm on Friday.

Two men are assisting police investigations. It is understood that the two, along with the wife of one of them, got off the flight and stayed in Singapore.

Mr Goh said three passengers were involved in a dispute on a flight and verbal threats were made. He said meal vouchers were distributed to all passengers due to the delay, and families with young children were given lounge access for greater comfort.

"We take safety and security seriously and we don't tolerate threats or disruptive behaviour by passengers on our flights."

In such cases, it is typically up to the pilots and crew to assess the severity and whether passenger behaviour threatens flight safety, with the captain having the final say.

Passenger behaviour causing major disruptions has led Qantas and the Jetstar Group of airlines to ban customers from flying in the past, as flight delays and diversions are costly and inconvenient to both airlines and passengers.

In 2014, a drunk Jetstar passenger travelling from Melbourne to Christchurch was banned from flying on the airlines after he claimed to have an assault rifle in his luggage.

•Additional reporting by Ng Jun Sen

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on December 24, 2017, with the headline 'Jetstar flight turned back over phone dispute'. Print Edition | Subscribe