AirDropped Image Of AirSoft Weapon Leads to UAL Flight Evacuation


According to local news sources, a teenage airline passenger “virtually” triggered a security evacuation by AirDropping an electronic image of a replica AirSoft weapon to other passengers. The incident occurred before takeoff on a United Airlines flight from San Francisco to Orlando. Security officials ultimately determined that the image had been taken well before the time of the flight and the fake gun was not on board. They also determined that no malicious intent was involved.

Flight 2167 hadn’t pushed back from the gate at San Francisco International Airport when, according to an airport spokesperson, a number of passengers received an image on their phones of the faux weapon. Several of them raised an alert, and the pilot announced a “threat on board” over the intercom.

The airport spokesperson said that security rescreened the passengers “out of an abundance of caution.” They also searched the aircraft before allowing passengers to reboard (though not the teenager). The incident resulted in a three-hour delay.

According to local news sources, United officially confirmed that the flight was “delayed due to a security issue involving a customer on board. Law enforcement officials were notified, and our teams are working with them to review this matter.”

Mark Phelps
Mark Phelps is a senior editor at AVweb. He is an instrument rated private pilot and former owner of a Grumman American AA1B and a V-tail Bonanza.

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  1. How STUPID are people these days? It’s not only just a VIRTUAL image but a virtual image of a NON-WEAPON. It reminds me of the HuffPo reporter assuming discarded ear plus were rubber bullets.

    So called trained security acting stupid is not an “abundance of caution”, it’s called just being stupid. Fire them and get real security. It’s not the kids fault that paid security professionals are demonstrably inept.

    • Indeed, how stupid are people these days to casually airdrop images of weapons (fake or not) while on an aircraft (when actual guns have been used to comendeer aircraft) and expect NOT to get caught and have to face consequences. It’s no different than yelling “fire!” when there is no fire.

    • “How STUPID are people these days?”

      Indeed Arthur, how stupid is someone who does not understand that in a aviation world that requires people to go through metal detectors, not carry on certain size bottles of liquids, get hand searched in randomly or not so randomly marked, get pulled from a line for saying the word ‘Bomb”, or post any picture of a gun or gun shaped object and think it was funny.

      First, that teenager was stupid or arrogant and stupid and by extension, his parents were stupid in not having better control of their son and certainly negligent in teaching him judgement. Did they apologize to passengers for the assinine actions of their son dropping unwanted pictures on their phones; other than missing a flight did they really have this be a teachable moment to not abuse technical devices or when not to play practical jokes. Airdrop is meant to be an easy way for people who know each other to share photos easily, not a way to drop questionable photos on strangers iPhones.

      Airline travel is not a right, it is a privilege provided by private/public companies regulated by a federal agency that tries to ensure safe flights, free from terrorist actions and from stupid children and adults alike. Don’t like the rules, don’t fly commercial. My take is that once I step into that environment I have accepted the rules and focus on not doing anything that will stop me from getting to where I am scheduled to be.

      Why is that so hard for people to grasp?

      • “Why is that so hard for people to grasp?”

        Teenagers are not adults and do silly things. ADULTS should act as ADULTS and see immediately that this was a non-problem.

        The only problem is when grown adults act like scared unreasonable little children instead of reasonable and competent adults.

      • Thankyou for pointing out the reality of the situation.

        (I do disagree with your definition of ‘right’ vs ‘privilege’.
        In societies like the US you have a right to fly. But there are rules for doing so with or around others, to protect them against unreasonable risk.
        Morally, I say you can go fly around your ranch including with consenting adults who know you. But around others there are rules to protect them against you. That is a principle, perhaps implemented obsessively but that does not negate the principle.

        We also try to protect people against initiation of force, which hijacking and worse acts are. That is the job of policing and the justice system, with aviation having its own set of police like air marshals and the poorly led security bureaucracy.

  2. NO, it’s just boundless caution and the power of suggestion. There’s a lot more rationale (admitted, a bad rationale) for panic based on an image. And a heck of a lot less rational thought behind applying “zero tolerance” during a ‘Zoom’ class where teachers are too timid to face a class within a real school building. Dunno if there’s any good excuse for a teacher (???) who calls the cops on a very bored kid who has his pride and joy paint gun hanging on the wall within her or his computer’s video frame inside his parent’s home. That’s so far out that I can’t imagine it being fake news.
    Still, the teenager had to live in a bubble. Toy guns, real guns, marshmellow guns, and water cannon all bring terror when viewed by the hyper sensitized. It’s best NOT to bring a toy simulacra of a weapon to an airport, any more than bringing a toy grenade. She (or he) should be just a bit more “situationally aware”. Images of weapons are today like coughing in an airplane without a mask. Don’ suggest anyone do that either. For that matter, I wouldn’t be very approving. Not that I’m the arbiter of good airport decorum. So, perhaps the adults who might have given him (her) a ride to the terminal could have had a ‘pre-hyper sensitivity’ talk with their teenager to alert ’em to the really (REALLY) important facts of airline travel today and likely for many tomorrows. Leave the guns (and images of guns) at home (out of sight of your “Zoom” teacher.

    • It’s an image of a NON-WEAPON. If paid officials (teachers included) are too stupid to recognize a non- weapon and, in fact, refuse to act like rational adults with their non-thinking “zero tolerance” spiel that allows them to be be stupid and unthinking, THEN irrationality rules. That’s a scary thing when transportation officials are paid to be irrational.

    • Sigh.

      The image of a gun was spread around the airliner cabin.

      You mis-represent the situation with attempted analogies.

      Yes, the individual lacked parents.

  3. Reminds me of two incidents that happened years ago. In one case, a passenger had named the wi-fi hot spot in his phone as “BOMB ON BOARD”. When other passengers went into their wi-fi settings to connect to the onboard entertainment system, they saw this message in the list. Naturally, they spoke up to a flight attendant and the aircraft returned to the departure airport. In the other case, a passenger had named their hot spot “this plane has been hacked” and as you can imagine that the news stories went viral without ever really getting to the bottom of that one either.

      • Which is a serious security problem, I doubt that the fools at Apple intended push without verification of knowing sender, but they have botched their scheme.

        • I see a problem if people can open their phones to anyone pushing photos, as the Atlantic Magazine article indicates if I understand it correctly. (Link stuck in ‘moderation’ for some reason.)

          Should be a prominent indication of status, but of course there’s clutter on the small phone display and other things to warm about including synching of email.

        • “Which is a serious security problem, I doubt that the fools at Apple intended push without verification”

          You miss the PERFECT Irony!
          The same FAA that implemented unencrypted/unauthenticated ADS-B (that is wide open) shuts down a flight because phones accepted anonymous data? That is to delicious when they blame a teenager.

          Seriously, blame the kid? You gotta be kidding me.

          • Huh?

            In the moment that airline and security people had to deal with, all that was known was that someone had pushed a photo of a gun onto other pax’ phones.

            _His_ action caused great concern for safety.

            Proper approach in the moment was to ensure he did not have a real gun.

            (Can’t assume that just because people with great knowledge of guns would think the photo is of a gun of minor risk, that:
            – he does not have a real gun (but just used a conveniently available photo)
            – that if he had a gun of minor risk, matching the photo, that he would not try to hijack the flight (crew may not be confident in evaluating the risk
            – BTW, ‘airsoft’ guns do fire projectiles which could harm your eye, read up in

  4. This is just one more example demonstrating that when stupidity meets hypersensitivity bad things can happen. A significant number of stupid people have died as the result of brandishing realistic toy replicas of handguns; the kid is fortunate virtual brandishing provides isolation from immediate action.

    • I disagree with ‘hypersensitivity’ in this case.

      Most people are not familiar with guns.

      • “Most people are not familiar with guns.”

        Irrelevant; It’s the job of AIRPORT SECURITY to be familiar with weapons. If they hire clueless people that cost the airlines and the traveling public money/time because they cannot identify real threats from toys THEN this people need to be fired.

        I’m all seriousness; airport security is now mostly just theater with politically correct clowns making decisions.

  5. What kind of idiocy is ‘Airdrop’ function shoving things onto other people’s telephones?

    Verbal diarrhea

    Ban the perp and publicize the ban.

  6. And I note that ‘default’ settings may not be stable.

    Microsloppy changes settings with updates.

    A serious case occurred with the triple-deleted emails from BrunHilary’s illegal off-the-books email server. NYPD dropped a dime to the FBI regarding some interesting emails it found on a laptop it was looking into.

    Apparent path to the computer of the husband of a key aide who was being investigated for Internet conversations with underage females was synching of email messages from server to aides phone to husbands phone.

    Default is supposed to be OFF for synching, users may have turned it ON.

    (The aide and the suspect are no longer married.)

  7. Very clearly over-reaction by security as this is not a weapon. A screwdriver or a coffe maker is more dangerous and a picture of either of those would not have grounded the flight. With that said this kid is an asshole and should be treated as such.

    • Logic error!

      Few other pax would be able to tell if it was a real gun or not, and who had it.

  8. Valid point Keith.

    If I was head of security I confess I’d have (grudgingly) done the same thing…

    Kid needs to be beaten regardless

    • “The same FAA that implemented unencrypted/unauthenticated ADS-B (that is wide open) shuts down a flight because phones accepted anonymous data? That is to delicious when they blame a teenager.”

      That’s a logical fallacy in several ways including:
      – different context
      – evading the fact that the individual did the deed
      – two wrongs do not make you right
      – …..

    • Thankyou.

      Not ‘beaten’ literally, in our type of society, but at very minimum ‘strong words’ with evaluation of whether or not the perp understands the gravity of his behaviour.

      (What probably occurred with police when a bushed logger flying the BC coast ‘back when’ made a dumb joke about a bomb.
      Crew evaluated how much of a threat the bleep was, if not much police met the flight.
      I suppose someone claiming a bomb but not demanding anything was on the low side of threat level, there were two bombings in BC in the 1950s, with the usual motives of getting rid of a spouse and/or insurance money.

      I was told by colleagues in Pacific Western who had experience flying the coast that the company tacitly accepted a slap as valid response to a bushed logger getting a bit amorous.)

  9. Logic error!

    Airport security are PAID to know that this was not a real gun nor a real threat. Maybe our Federal Airport Terminal Airline Security Service (great acronym) employees should be trained by Israeli security before reporting back to work?

    • You are operating in hindsight.

      Photos of a gun were pushed into phones of several passengers, source was identified, airline and security had to ensure he did not have a real gun.

      • No, the passenger security scan is for ensuring passengers do not have metallic weapons. Perhaps we need to ban those annoying phones? 🙂

  10. No wonder people want secure phones, as a recent POTUS demanded (takes much staff time to program one), and Blackberry may be supporting people doing.