Carol Anne Gotbaum, 45, was arrested Friday at Sky Harbor International Airport in Phoenix after she became irate when gate crews refused to let her board a flight for which she was late, officials said.
"She was a wonderful mother; she was sweet and kind and loving," said public advocate Betsy Gotbaum, the woman's stepmother-in-law. "It's obviously very, very difficult for us; we are dealing with it as best we can. My No. 1 focus is those children and my stepson."
She also pleaded with the press for privacy.
The events that led to Gotbaum's death began when she became irate over not being allowed on a US Airways flight, though she was rebooked on a later flight, officials said.
Officers handcuffed her and took her to the holding room, where she kept screaming, authorities said. They checked on her when she became quiet and found her unresponsive, said Phoenix police Sgt. Andy Hill.
It appears Gotbaum may have tried to get out of her handcuffs, which ended up around her neck, Hill said. A medical examiner will determine the cause of death.
Neither a stun gun nor pepper spray was used on the woman, authorities said.
The New York City public advocate helps solve residents' problems with government and acts as a watchdog over city agencies.