Social influencer arrested after coronavirus 'prank' forces plane to turn back

A Canadian man who dreams of becoming a "social-media star" stood up during a Westjet flight from Toronto to Jamaica and announced he thought he had the coronavirus.

After the plane took off on Monday, James Potok told the other 200-plus passengers he had recently been to China and now he was feeling ill.

"I had my camera with me," the Ontario man told Canada's Global News. "I was looking to get a viral video. I was looking to get it up on all the social-media platforms."

Potok, 28, was not sick and had not been to China, the epicentre of the international outbreak of a novel coronavirus that so far has killed more than 400 people.

As passengers became scared following Potok's announcement, the pilot decided to turn the plane around and return to Toronto. The crew made the unruly passenger put on a mask and gloves. Once back at the airport, Potok was taken into custody.

"Out of an abundance of caution, our crew followed all protocols for infectious disease on board, including sequestering an individual who made an unfounded claim regarding coronavirus," WestJet said in a statement. "Due to the involvement of law enforcement, as well as the privacy of our guests, we are not able to provide additional information about the incident at this time."

Potok insists he wasn't trying to create a panic on the plane. He was hoping simply to get a response on social media, with people around the world saying, "this kid is crazy, or whatever it is."

He said that once the crew announced the plane was returning to Toronto's airport, he felt guilty that he had inconvenienced so many people. That said, he added:

"I'm artist. Any publicity is good publicity."


He has since posted an apology on YouTube.


See also: Aussie YouTube star slammed after faking injury to get airline upgrade

See also: Can masks actually protect you from coronavirus?