A 28-year-old Vaughan man who falsely claimed he had coronavirus, causing a Toronto-to-Jamaica WestJet flight to return to the airport, says he just wanted to have a video go viral.
“Well, I had my camera with me. I was looking to get a viral video. I was looking to get it up on all the social media platforms,” James Potok told Global News on Tuesday.
“It seemed to me like this was in poor taste, in retrospect. What I did, I stood up, I said, ‘Can I have everybody’s attention? I just came back from Hunan Province — and that was it.”
“I figured it would invoke some type of reaction, not on the plane. More people seeing on social media, going, ‘Wow, this kid’s got some balls,’ or, ‘This kid is crazy.’”
WestJet said Flight 2702, with 243 passengers on board, was on its way to Sangster International Airport in Montego Bay on Monday when the flight was disrupted by an “unruly guest.”
The airline said the plane returned to Toronto, where law enforcement and paramedics were waiting.
WestJet said that “out of an abundance of caution,” the flight crew followed all protocols for infectious disease on board.
The airline said Flights 2702 and 2703 were cancelled as a result of the incident, but two additional flights were scheduled this morning to make up for it – one leaving Toronto and one returning from Montego Bay.
The company declined to comment further on the incident, citing the police investigation.
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Tiffany Richards said she and her mother were on the flight at the time of the incident. She said she was asleep when a man about eight rows away from her got up and made an announcement.
“What he basically said (is), ‘I need everyone’s attention. I have just returned from Wuhan, one of the capital cities of China, and it’s an epicentre for the coronavirus,” she recalled.
“I’m feeling really, really sick right now. I think I might be infected. I need everyone to stay away from me, like please don’t come near me.
“He repeated himself a couple of times, and that was that. And he sat down.”
Richards called what happened a “ridiculous hoax,” adding she was frustrated to be missing a day of her vacation.
“My mom was very concerned she actually asked the flight attendant so she could have a mask too,” she said.
Peel Regional Police said Potok was arrested Monday afternoon in connection with the incident. He was charged with mischief and breach of recognizance. Potok is set to appear in court on March 9.
Officers said Potok was assessed by medical staff upon arriving at the airport and deemed him symptom-free.
Potok said he flies to Jamaica several times a year and that he made a similar type of on-board announcement previously.
“I pulled my phone out. I made a viral video and got up. I said, ‘Can I have your attention? Can I have your attention? Everyone stopped and looked,” he recalled.
“I said, ‘Lil Wayne’s new album just dropped. Everybody go get it.’ No problem with that — sat back down, landed. Everybody got off, no issue.”
When asked about Monday’s incident and the desire to make a viral video, he described himself as an artist.
“Any publicity for myself is good publicity,” he said.
However, Potok went on to say what he did was “wrong.”
“I ruined the flight for 200-and-some-odd people. I ruined their flight,” he said.
“There’s all types of positions — people that are happy, people that are upset. But in the end, I ruined the people on the plane’s trip — so I’m extremely apologetic.”
— With files from The Canadian Press, Catherine McDonald, Gabby Rodrigues and Tom Hayes