A first-class passenger on a plane to Shanghai caused such a ruckus Sunday by screaming, cursing and disobeying flight attendants that the Boeing 777's pilot made an emergency stopover in Anchorage where the passenger was arrested, according to the charges against her.
Stephanie Heizmann Auerbach, owner of Shanghai-based apparel and fashion company Stephanie & Co., remained jailed Tuesday at Hiland Mountain Correctional Center on federal charges of disrupting a flight. Two children traveling with Auerbach, 47, continued to Shanghai, where their father was to meet them, the charges say.
A spokeswoman for Delta Airlines, operator of the ill-fated Flight 181, said the flight originated in New York and was bound for Shanghai via Detroit. According to the charges, Auerbach's bad behavior began an hour or an hour-and-a-half into the 7,100-mile leg from Detroit to Shanghai.
An FBI agent who interviewed passengers and flight attendants filed this account with the charges Tuesday:
"M.B.," a flight attendant, said she served Auerbach five glasses of white wine, and three passengers later told her that Auerbach had been "taking and consuming alcoholic beverages from the galley without the knowledge of the flight crew," the charges say.
It became a problem when, as one passenger told the FBI agent later, Auerbach began walking up and down the aisle, yelling profanities and climbing over seats. She refused to sit down after a flight attendant asked her to go to her seat, A in Row 1, five different times.
"Auerbach spilled alcohol on passenger A.J. and grabbed A.J.'s wrist to place a bracelet on A.J. (She) declined to wear the bracelet and asked Auerbach to leave her alone," the charges say. "In response, Auerbach swore at A.J. and demanded that a flight attendant give her A.J.'s name. A flight attendant intervened and returned Auerbach to Auerbach's assigned seat. Auerbach alarmed A.J. and it appeared to A.J. that Auerbach was attempting to gain access to the pilot."
Another flight attendant gave Auerbach a written notice saying she had violated an order by a member of the flight crew regarding passenger safety. In response, Auerbach hit the flight attendant with the notice. Auerbach then approached the flight attendant, getting close to his or her face, and demanded off the flight.
That's when the pilot, "W.R.," came out to talk to Auerbach "at length," the charges say. Delta's spokeswoman would not give the pilot's name.
W.R. warned Auerbach and asked if she would follow the crew's instructions. She said no, and the pilot diverted the flight to Anchorage.
"After landing at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport, Auerbach remained uncooperative," the charges say.
Airport police had to board the plane to remove Auerbach, who was "physically combative," the charges say. They detained her, and she was eventually charged and arrested.
"Auerbach was traveling with two children," the charges say. "Both of the children were allowed to continue the flight to Shanghai, China, on the condition that the children's father pick up the children at the airport ..."
Delta spokeswoman Leslie Scott said company rules prevented her from talking about passenger details, including the ages of the children. Scott said the plane's crew members did what they were supposed to do.
"That's pretty much the protocol. It's up to crew discretion," Scott. "The flight crew is in charge of the safety of the aircraft and the passengers on board, and they did what they thought was necessary in this case."
There was no indication in the charges that the crew needed to restrain Auerbach, but Scott said that is always an option in such incidents. "That is a tactic that can be taken, if the crew deems it necessary."
Auerbach's Anchorage attorney did not respond to requests for comment.
On her LinkedIn profile online, Auerbach describes herself as a designer and entrepreneur. The profile says she owns Stephanie & Co. and has worked in the past as an art director in New York, where public records indicate she lives or has lived in the past.
Reach Casey Grove at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4589.