An Instagrammer tried to make a viral video by joking he might have coronavirus on a plane. Instead he forced an emergency landing and got arrested.

James Potok

Mike Hunter/City News

Footage shared on social media shows WestJet passengers criticising James Potok as he his led off the plane after his coronavirus joke.

  • A YouTuber forced a plane to turn around and fly back to the airport after he joked that he could have the deadly coronavirus.
  • James Potok said he stood up on the WestJet plane and announced that he had been to "the capital of the coronavirus" and "I'm not feeling too well."
  • The plane turned around about two hours into the flight, and Potok was examined for symptoms before he was arrested and charged. 
  • Potok said he had hoped to get a viral video, but that he now thinks "what I did was wrong" and said he "ruined the flight" for the 243 people on board.
  • More than 20,000 people have been infected and almost 500 people have died from the virus which is concentrated in China.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

A YouTuber who forced a plane to emergency land by joking that he could have the deadly coronavirus said he was trying to get a viral video and apologized for interrupting passengers' journeys.

WestJet flight WS 2702 from Toronto, Canada to Montego Bay, Jamaica, turned around about two hours into the flight on Monday and returned to Pearson International Airport after Potok joked on board that he had travelled to the region of China where the virus originated, where hundreds of people have died and millions are quarantined.
In an interview with Canada's Global News, Potok said "I stood up, I said 'Can I have everybody's attention, I just came back from Hunan province.' And that was it."

He told Toronto's City News that he had announced: "I just came back from Hunan province, the capital of the coronavirus … I'm not feeling too well. Thank you."

The centre of the coronavirus outbreak is in the city of Wuhan, which is actually is located China's Hubei province, not Hunan. Around 700 people in Hunan have been infected with the virus.

Potok said that airline staff then put him in a mask and gloves.

Another passenger on board, Julie-Anne Brockerick, wrote on Facebook that her flight returned "because SOME IDIOT pretended he had the Coronavirus to post on YouTube."The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation said 243 people were on board.

Video shared on social media shows Potok being taken off the plane:

WestJet said in a statement that flight crew had followed infection disease protocols "out of an abundance of caution," and said the flight was diverted due to an "unruly guest," CBC reported.

Police in Ontario's Peel Region said in a statement that Potok's announcement "was shared with the flight crew and a decision was made to return the flight to Pearson Airport," CBC reported.

They said Potok was inspected medically, and was found to be free of symptoms. He was arrested and charged by the police.

Potok will appear in court in Brampton on March 9, facing the charges of mischief and breach of recognizance.

Potok told Global News: "They've charged me criminally and I have court to go to."
Here's the route the plane ended up taking:

toronto coronavirus flight path


The flight path of Flight WS 2702 from Toronto, which returned to Pearson International Airport after takeoff.

Social media footage shared by City News shows passengers criticising Potok as he is brought off the plane, including saying "That was a good one" and "We could have been in the sun."


Potok, who goes by the name Potok Philippe, described himself as an artist when describing his desire to go viral to Global News."I'm an artist. Any publicity for myself is good publicity."

Potok makes music videos and has more than 34,000 followers on his Instagram account, which has now been set to private. A YouTube channel called Potok Philippe, which shares his music videos, has 715 subscribers. He also has a Spotify channel, which has around 11,000 monthly listeners.

He said: "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.

"I figured it would invoke some kind 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,' whatever it is."

"I was looking to create a video, yes, that would go viral," he said.

But he said he was apologetic for the effect on other passengers.

"It seems to me like this was in poor taste, in retrospect," he told Global News. "What I did was wrong. I ruined the flight for 200 and somewhat people. I ruined their flight." 
You can watch the interview here:


He described the reaction to his actions are mixed.

"There's all types of positions: people that are happy, people that are upset. But in the end I ruined people on the plane's trip, so I'm extremely apologetic."

Potok said he has done other viral videos on planes, with no issues."I fly to Jamaica five times a year. One time, a couple of trips ago, I did a similar thing, I pulled my phone out, I made a viral vide, I got up, I said: 'Can I have your attention, can I have your attention.' Everyone stopped and looked. And I said: 'Lil Wayne's new album just dropped. Everybody go get it.'

"No problem with that. I sat back down, landed, everyone got off. No issue."

The virus has infected more than 20,000 people in China and some cases have spread to at least 26 more countries. It has killed 492 people.