There aren’t supposed to be needles anywhere on an airplane, and especially not in the meals. So, it was more than slightly alarming when business-class passengers on four different Delta Air Lines flights from Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport to points in the U.S. found needles hidden in five different lunches.
The needles, two of which were found by passengers — including one American, Jim Tonjes, who punctured the roof of his mouth biting into his meal — were on flights bound for Minneapolis, Seattle and Atlanta.
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Once the first two needles were discovered, Delta stopped meal service on 18 flights from Amsterdam; a midair search uncovered three more meals that had been tampered with, including one found by a federal Air Marshal, according to Delta spokesperson Kristin Baur.
FBI Special Agent Stephen Emmett in Atlanta confirmed Tuesday that the agency is investigating, but declined to comment further.
All the food was provided by airline catering company Gate Gourmet, and originated in an Amsterdam facility.
Tonjes told the Star-Tribune newspaper he was about 90 minutes out of Minneapolis when he took a bit of his sandwich only to feel something sharp in his mouth. “I figured it might be a toothpick,” he told the newspaper. “It looked like a sewing needle but without an eye. … I was in shock. I thought, ‘Oh, my God.’ It’s the last thing you expect in a sandwich.”
Another passenger on the same flight found a similar 1-inch-long needle and three more needles were found on flights heading to Atlanta and Seattle.
While the FBI and other authorities questioned Tonjes for over three hours, there’s no word yet on the case. Gate Gourmet spokesperson Christina Ulosevich called it a “terribly upsetting situation” and Delta has gone to offering only sealed, prepackaged food on these same flights.
Gate Gourmet and Delta both say they are cooperating fully with investigations and that no other instances of problems on other Delta flights or non-Delta flights serviced by Gate Gourmet were found.
Tonjes is now on anti-HIV medication as a precaution and the FBI promised him they would test the needle for contamination, although he hasn’t yet received a follow-up call since the incident.
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