The incident happened Sunday evening aboard a Delta Air Lines flight that had arrived at the Queens airport from Rome and was scheduled to go on to Las Vegas.
Flight 149 pulled back from the gate just after 5 p.m. but was delayed on the taxiway for more than 2 1/2 hours due to bad weather and congested skies, common issues at JFK. Around 7:45 p.m., McDonald, who was traveling with his wife, lost his cool, prosecutors said.
"Apparently, the defendant wanted to get off the plane," District Attorney Richard Brown said, "so he opened the emergency exit door."
After flight attendants intervened, the jet returned to the gate. The flight, with 146 passengers aboard, was canceled.
McDonald was arrested by airport police. He was arraigned Monday evening but didn't enter a plea; he was released and was told to return to court May 18. His attorney, George Welch, didn't immediately return an after-hours telephone message seeking comment.
McDonald, 60, could face up to a year in jail if convicted.
A spokeswoman for Delta Air Lines Inc., which is based in Atlanta, said the inconvenienced passengers were rebooked on the next flight.
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