Told the section was full, Philippe Jernnard just went into the cockpit and pretended to be crew, even dressing the part, police allege.
Unlike Leonardo DiCaprio in the film based on the true story of a successful con artist posing as a pilot, Jernnard was caught right away at Philadelphia International Airport and is now being held on $1 million bail, Philadelphia police said Friday.
The 61-year-old later remarked that he “hated Americans,” said police, who are still ascertaining his exact motive.
Jernnard, who is from La Rochelle, on the west coast of France, is a retired winemaker who was on a layover from France and was changing planes to his final destination in West Palm Beach, Florida, said Philadelphia Inspector Joseph Sullivan.
There’s no indication that Jernnard was drunk, but he appeared to have had some drinks, Sullivan said.
Police arrested the man on charges of trespassing, impersonating a public servant and lying to police, Inspector Joseph Sullivan said.
The FBI is also investigating, a spokesman said Friday.
The incident occurred on a US Airways flight, Philadelphia police say.
US Airways declined to comment, citing the FBI investigation, spokesman Andrew Christie said.
Jernnard boarded the plane Wednesday evening wearing a white button-down shirt with an Air France logo over the pocket and a black jacket with four gold stripes on the epaulets, akin to one worn by pilots, police said.
He also was carrying a bad fake of an Air France crew badge and a fake crew identification card, according to police and Air France spokesman Cedric Leurquin.
Before he boarded the US Airways flight, Jernnard had a disagreement with airline personnel who could not accommodate his request to be upgraded to business class, police said.
Police believe he sauntered into the cockpit while passengers were boarding the plane. The pilot’s door is usually open at that time, police said.
A flight attendant conducting a routine head count entered the cockpit and saw the man sitting in the jump seat behind the captain’s seat. He identified himself as an Air France pilot.
At least two pilots were doing pre-flight checks on the Airbus when the man entered the cockpit, Sullivan said.
“He identified himself as a pilot and started to sit in the jump seat. But he immediately had a problem getting strapped in and it was obvious to the real pilots that he couldn’t be a pilot,” Sullivan told CNN. “He didn’t know what he was doing.”
The flight crew told him he would have to fill out paperwork, but the man didn’t have credentials, police said. The captain then told him to leave the area, and the man became irate, police said.
Unable to calm him down, the flight crew escorted him off the plane, police said.
An airline agent tried to re-book him on another flight while U.S. Airways corporate security was notified, police said.
When corporate security realized they had a possible crime on their hands, the man had left the terminal for his re-booked flight, police said.
Corporate security contacted Philadelphia police, who found and arrested the man at his new terminal, Sullivan said.
The original U.S. Airways flight departed.
Police say they don’t know whether the suspect was simply a prankster trying to mimic Frank W. Abagnale Jr. or he had other motives. (Abagnale — who infamously eluded authorities for years in the 1960s while posing as, among other things, an airline pilot, a doctor and an attorney — was the inspiration for the 2002 film “Catch Me If You Can,” starring DiCaprio and Tom Hanks).
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Despite the man’s comment to police that he hates Americans, a federal law enforcement official said that investigators so far have not found any link to terrorism.
Air France confirmed that none of its employees had tried to board the Charlotte-bound flight. Jernnard wasn’t wearing the airline’s official uniform and badge.
The Federal Aviation Administration and the Transportation Security Administration wouldn’t discuss the case and referred calls to the FBI.