Canada Markets open in 1 hr 29 mins

Fake airline pilot traveled for free in cockpit

Kelly O'Mara

An Italian man was apprehended last week after pretending to be a pilot to get free flights.

The unemployed 32-year-old  – who hasn't yet been identified – went by the name “Andrea Sirlo,” according to police, who arrested him in the Turin airport on Sept. 22. “Sirlo” told police he took his inspiration from Frank Abagnale Jr., who flew nearly one million miles for free while pretending to be a pilot for Pan America Airways. Abagnale was portrayed in the movie "Catch Me If You Can" by Leonardo di Caprio.

“Sirlo” had started a Facebook page and Twitter account under the pseudonym, where he claimed to be a first officer on the Lufthansa City Line. The online identity was complete with fake airline-attendant friends who posted updates about how great it was to fly with him.

However, his charade went further than a few fake friends.

Turin police held a press conference after the arrest, displaying a handmade uniform of a white short-sleeved shirt, a jacket and hand-sewn pilot stripes. Police also presented a fake resume, airline badges, and a staff parking permit. The name “Sirlo” came from the name for the flight corridor over Turin.
“The reason he did it was to create another existence for himself,” said Turin police spokesperson Filippo Vanni.

Reuters originally reported that a “Pilot Andrea Sirlo” logged a trip on a flight-tracking website from Munich to Turin on Oct. 23, 2011. Police confirmed that “Sirlo” did fly for free as a third pilot from Munich to Turin and are investigating whether he took any other free flights. (He did not actually fly the plane, but sat in the extra seat in the cockpit.)

Lufthansa would not comment on whether the flight was taken on their plane. And Turin Airport said, in a statement, that it did not issue any parking permits to anyone under the name “Sirlo.”

Reportedly, officers had been tracking down the man since questions arose several months ago. At that time, “Sirlo” introduced himself to a Civil Aviation lieutenant as a captain for Lufthansa, which the lieutenant found suspicious because of his young age.

The fake captain was finally caught when he showed up at the check-in desk at the Turin Airport. He just couldn’t stay away.

"Sirlo's" inspiration, Abagnale is not the only fabled pretend pilot. A pilot fired from the Mexican airline Aerolitoral reportedly continued to show up in his old uniform to get free flights on sister airline, AeroMexico. And, more than one would-be Romeo has dressed up and pretended to be a pilot in an airline bar late at night.

So go ahead and dress up as a pilot for Halloween. Just don’t try to get on a flight.