According to Business Insider, James Potok, who goes by the name Potok Philippe, was on a flight from Toronto to Montego Bay, Jamaica, when he joked about traveling to the region of China where the virus has infected close to 1,000 people.
"I just came back from Hunan province, the capital of the coronavirus," he recalled saying. "I'm not feeling too well. Thank you."
Whatever he said, it was enough to make WestJet take emergency precautions. Despite being nearly two hours into the flight, the plane turned around and returned to Toronto's Pearson International Airport. During the return to Toronto, Potok was subjected to wearing a mask and gloves despite admitting to the comment being a prank.
Per Potok, it was all an attempt to get publicity.
"I'm an artist," he said. "Any publicity for myself is good publicity... 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."
Mission accomplished. Unfortunately, he's been charged criminally for the incident, and is reportedly facing mischief and breach of recognizance charges. Also, the 243 people on the flight were not entertained by Potok's outburst or the delay it caused.
"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.
The virus has infected more than 20,000 people in China and has spread to 26 other countries, killing nearly 500 people in total.