With many tourist-accessible TGI Friday’s locations in New York, it seemed the casual dining chain was hedging its bets by launching the first U.S. mistletoe drones way out in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn. In any case, I deleted the PR email that announced as much, and thereby missed out on a great lawsuit: One of these things sliced a woman’s face open.
The two quadcopters in use at the Harkness Avenue location, ranging from 10 to 23 inches in size, with no prop guards to protect a customer from their whirling blades, are part of a holiday kiss-cam gimmick. Which means they almost certainly saw Georgine Benvenuto, a photographer on hand to snap some pictures of the unpiloted planes in action, as some kind of a rival. Here’s the blow-by-blow from Benevenuto’s employer, Courier Daily:
[Drone operator David] Quiones had encouraged our reporter to let him land the smaller of the two aircraft on her hand, but she flinched when the 10-inch drone touched down—and he said that is what caused the four-bladed flying machine to careen into the face of our photographer nearby. But Benvenuto insisted that the responsibility lies with the man operating the controls.
“It literally chipped off a tip of my nose,” a bloodied Benvenuto, who was grateful to have kept her eyes, added afterward. “It took off part of my nose and cut me here, right under my chin.”
Even funnier than the idea that flying drones around inside a packed eatery where pumpkin spice martinis are served is in any way wise or necessary were loyal customers’ dismissals of Benevenuto’s injury: “It was like a scratch on her nose,” said Karim Turner of Yonkers, who had not witnessed the accident. “I’ve seen far more worse blood than that.”
A TGI Friday’s spokeswoman blew off safety concerns, saying drones hadn’t nicked anyone at “Mobile Mistletoe” events in Texas and Long Island, while Quiones invoked an aerialist analogy: “If people get hurt, they’re going to come regardless. People get hurt in airplanes, they still fly,” he said. “There is a risk involved—anything flying, there is risk.”
True enough, though I’ve never had to watch an instructional video about life jackets when ordering jalapeño poppers, or even take off my shoes beforehand—just my belt.
Update 4:50 EST: Daily Intelligencer has an interview with Benevenuto, who “was uncomfortable, uneasy about [the drones from the very beginning.” Here’s her account of the attempted drone landing on reporter Vanessa Ogle’s hand and subsequent chaos:
It kind of landed, but it did something to her hand—I don’t know whether it was buzzing or what—but she flinched. And when she flinched, I was standing maybe a foot away from her, and this smaller toy drone for children flies into my face at that point. It was like I couldn’t get it off because I guess the mistletoe part had fishing wire on it—that’s how it was attached—and it got caught in my hair and it kept twirling and twirling and twirling while this thing is on my nose. That’s how it ended up cutting me under the chin, I think it had four blades. So immediately like I’m trying to get this thing off as if it was a huge bug trying to shoo it away. … The operator I think still had it in operation mode. Immediately his hand should’ve come off the controls but they didn’t. I was pissed off at that point so I put my index finger up to my nose and he said, ‘This thing won’t cut you,’ and I said, ‘What do you mean it won’t cut me? It just did.’