A DRUNKEN plane passenger who caused a landing to be aborted when he insisted on using the toilet just before touchdown has been jailed for two months.
Rui Sanches (39) refused to follow cabin crew directions to return to his seat, forcing the captain to pull the plane into a sharp climb away from the runway at Dublin Airport, a court heard.
The accused had drunk five small bottles of wine before the incident on board the Aer Lingus flight from Lisbon to Dublin on Tuesday night. He was returning to Ireland after a holiday in Portugal.
The aircraft was safely landed when he returned to his seat.
Sentencing him, Judge Conal Gibbons said he wanted to “bring home the seriousness of what he had done”.
Sanches, a father-of-two and restaurant worker of Glencollyer Street, Belfast, admitted intoxication and threatening, abusive and insulting behaviour on an aircraft, as well as failing to cease behaviour likely to cause an offence.
Garda Sergeant Paul Keane said the incident happened on the night of January 3 as Aer Lingus flight EI487 from Lisbon was about to touch down.
Sanchez, who was intoxicated, got out of his seat and informed cabin staff that he had to go to the bathroom. They asked him to return to his seat on five occasions but he refused and became aggressive towards the head of the cabin crew. He proceeded to use the toilet.
Sgt Keane said the plane was just three minutes to touch down and its landing gear had been deployed.
The cabin crew then informed Captain John Thompson that Sanchez had refused the direction to return to his seat and was in the toilet.
“The captain believed there was an immediate risk to the passengers, the crew and the aeroplane’s safety and due to this, he decided to abort the landing and commenced a sharp ascent and turnaround until Mr Sanches was safely seated,” Sgt Keane continued.
As the manoeuvre was being executed, Sanches exited the toilet and fell to his knees and onto another passenger as he returned to his seat.
When the plane landed, airport police detained him before gardai arrested him. Sanches has no previous convictions.
Sanches had spent two weeks on holiday in Lisbon and his end destination was Belfast, where he lives with his partner and children, his solicitor Michael French said. He accepted he got intoxicated on the plane and “let himself down”.
“He appreciates the anguish and distress he caused to flight staff and fellow passengers on the flight,” Mr French said. “He had a night in custody in Ballymun Garda Station and has had plenty of time to think about the whole incident.”
Judge Gibbons said Sanches’ actions were “quite appalling” and his behaviour “so extreme and difficult” the captain had to make a split-second decision.
The judge said there had been plenty of time during the flight for him to use the toilet.
“He forced the captain to take emergency action – captains of aircraft don’t abort landings except in extremes,” Judge Gibbons said.
“In this day and age when someone goes into the toilet on a plane in the circumstances in which he did, you can understand why the captain had to exercise extreme caution.”
Mr French argued that it would be excessive to take the accused’s liberty away.
“Because it’s summary doesn’t mean it’s not grave,” the judge said. “It is not as grave as if he was a hijacker...but if you think you can misbehave like this on an aircraft, your liberty is at risk.”