The angry Frenchman came upon an audacious solution when he couldn't fly business class, a plan worthy of "Catch Me If You Can."
Told the section was full, Philippe Jernnard just went into the cockpit and pretended to be crew, even dressing the part, police allege.
Unlike Leonardo DiCaprio in the film about a successful pilot impersonator, Jernnard was caught in his ruse at Philadelphia International Airport and is now being held on $1 million bail, Philadelphia police said Friday.
The 61-year-old later remarked that he "hated Americans," said police, who are still ascertaining his exact motive. Jernnard is from La Rochelle, on the west coast of France, they said.
Police arrested the man on charges of trespassing, impersonating a public servant and lying to police, Inspector Joseph Sullivan said.
The FBI is also investigating, a spokesman said Friday.
The incident occurred on a US Airways flight, Philadelphia police say.
Jernnard boarded the plane Wednesday evening wearing a white button-down shirt with an Air France logo over the pocket and a black jacket with four gold stripes on the epaulets, akin to one worn by pilots, police said.
He also was carrying a bad fake of an Air France crew badge and a fake crew identification card, according to police and Air France spokesman Cedric Leurquin.
Before he boarded the US Airways flight, Jernnard had a disagreement with airline personnel who could not accommodate his request to be upgraded to business class, police said.
Police believe he sauntered into the cockpit while passengers were boarding the plane. The pilot's door is usually open at that time, police said.
A flight attendant conducting a routine head count entered the cockpit and saw the man sitting in the jump seat behind the captain's seat. He identified himself as an Air France pilot.
Suspicious airline employees, sniffing out a fake, questioned the man.
The flight crew told him he would have to fill out paperwork, but the man didn't have credentials, police said. The captain then told him to leave the area, and ordered him off the plane before it left the gate. The man became irate. The crew called police.
Was the act a fit of pique or a prank?
Police say they don't know if the suspect was simply a prankster, trying to channel DiCaprio's film performance as a con man posing as a pilot in "Catch Me If You Can," or if he had other motives.
Despite the man's comment to police that he hates Americans, a federal law enforcement official said that investigators so far have not found any link to terrorism.
Air France confirmed that none of its employees had tried to board the Charlotte-bound flight. Jernnard wasn't wearing the airline's official uniform and badge or carrying the company baggage.
The Federal Aviation Administration and the Transportation Security Administration wouldn't discuss the case and referred calls to the FBI.