Miami Passengers Under Armed Guard, Had Phone Searched Before Flight Was Cancelled

Yesterday’s 7:05 p.m. American Airlines flight AA257 from Miami to Mexico City was delayed multiple times and then cancelled due to a security threat that was ultimately deemed ‘non-credible’.

Passengers were deplaned and the aircraft was searched.

When customers were back in the terminal they were guarded by armed officers.

Police searched passengers’ phones. Apparently they were looking for an airdrop message on an iPhone.

Passengers reboarded the aircraft after it was cleared. Everyone was checked for explosives residue. Some passengers wouldn’t get back on the aircraft. Apparently positive bag matching was implemented for the flight, they weren’t going to fly with luggage belonging to a passenger not on board even though the plane was checked and cleared so they had to offload those passengers’ luggage. And that delay reportedly pushed crew past their allowable duty time.

Everyone was offloaded again. They went looking for new crew and pushed departure time to 2 a.m. And then at 2 a.m. they cancelled the flight.

Everyone who decided to get off earlier made the individually rational decision even if it meant that the crew wound up going illegal.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Would love to have a civil rights lawyer weigh in on the cell phone search part, because it’s offensive and not something I’d be comfortable with. Do they actually have the right to search your phone (I’ve got to think the Fourth Amendment would prohibit this)? I assume they could, however, deny you boarding for not cooperating? What if the police attempt to detain or arrest you because you didn’t cooperate?

  2. In Florida, the police need a warrant to search a cell phone (See Smallwood v. State of Florida, Florida Supreme Court Case No. SC11-1130.).

  3. The problem with reliance on civil rights and the fourth amendment is that they apply to government actions. So while there is a case to be made that police couldn’t search your phone, the airline could, and could deny you boarding either for its contents or your failure to comply. All they need to do is say you are a threat to the flight – heck, they’ve kicked people off planes because of a crying baby, cell phone messages would be a piece of cake to defend.

  4. Not necessarily directly applicable here since the validity of the police search is in question in the first place, but here’s some free advice.

    Police can force you to use touch ID (and presumably face ID) if they have a warrant, but cannot force you to enter a passcode as that is generally considered protected by the Fifth Amendment. If you have an iPhone with Face ID/Touch ID, you can disable these features and require a passcode by pressing the lock/power button and either (or both) volume keys at the same time for a few seconds until you see the screen asking you to slide to power off (if you take a screenshot, you didn’t hold it long enough). Simply tap cancel on that screen and then your phone will need the passcode to unlock. YMMV depending on the LEO you are dealing with.

    Also, if you press the power button five times, it will lock as well but will also initiate the emergency SOS call countdown which you have to cancel otherwise 911 will be called and your emergency SOS contacts will be contacted.

  5. I’m a bit confused what they were looking for in the phones, but NO law enforcement does not have a right to just go searching through your phone without a warrant. We still have privacy here in this country no matter what law enforcement says. Could they keep people from boarding the plane who refused to show their phones? Probably. You don’t have a constitutional right to get on that particular plane. If you are a non-citizen coming into the US from across the border can they keep you out of the country if you refuse to show your phone? yes. Can they prevent a lawful US citizen from entering the country if the refuse to show their phone? No. They can delay you and make it feel like they won’t let you in without providing access to your phone, but in the end they can’t keep you out of the country based on that if you are a citizen.

  6. Government employees don’t care about your rights. I one time was sitting at a gate waiting to board my plane when three or four TSA idiots showed up at the gate and told everyone that they were doing a random search of our flight. (This is after we already cleared security to get to the gate mind you).

    They stood at the front of the boarding line and told everyone to open their carry ons and purses in order to scan their tickets and board. When they got me, they told me to open my carry on, and I told them that the 4th Amendment says no. The TSA guy just waved me onto the plane. What the heck was going on there?

  7. I’m deeply disturbed and amazed with the comments, I would absolutely give access to everything to LEOs who are dealing with a delicate, life threatening situation like the one who was investigated there. To expedite the process for the safety of a large group of citizens. And the liberal airhead complaining on twitter is more concerned about his ‘comfort’, and the decision ‘could have been called earlier’, like they were dealing with a simple issue.

  8. @BBK I’m deeply disturbed and amazed by the fact that you are willing to cede your right to privacy to law enforcement officers who have shown repeatedly throughout history that they aren’t “on our side” or to be trusted with having access to our private information.

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