A jetBlue flight attendant was strangled and nearly incapacitated by an unruly passenger who attempted to storm the flight deck and begged to be shot during a flight from Boston to San Juan on Wednesday night.
An affidavit first obtained by the Daily Beast details how flight attendants fought to subdue the passenger after he broke out of a pair of flex cuffs. As many as seven crew members were involved in trying to restrain the suspect with at least four extension seatbelts and even a flight attendant’s tie used to strap him to a seat.
Khalil El Dahr has been charged with interference with flight crew members (49 U.S.C. § 46318.) which carries a maximum sentence of a civil penalty of up to $25,000 following the incident onboard jetBlue flight 261.
Special agent William Lopez of the FBI’s San Juan division interviewed two of the flight attendants and detailed their accounts in the affidavit. One of the flight attendants described how he first noticed El Dahr getting angry after he attempted to make a phone call that wouldn’t connect.
He then “pulled himself out of his seat and rushed toward the flight deck yelling to be shot in the Spanish language”.
At the same time that this was happening, one of the pilots completely unaware that a passenger was charging the flight deck, opened the door to the flight deck.
The flight attendant managed to redirect El Dahr into the front row of seats before the forward galley and “corralled” him there to prevent El Dahr potentially breaching the cockpit.
El Dahr, however, noticed the flight deck door was open and grabbed the flight attendant by the tie. He then leveraged himself against an overhead locker so that he could kick the flight attendant in the chest with all his weight. As he did this, the flight attendant realised he was being strangled by his own tie that El Dahr was pulling.
The flight attendant had to briefly let go of El Dahr to prevent him from being strangled before other crewmembers jumped in to help restrain him.
A second flight attendant explained how one of the restraints used to tie El Dahr down were flex cuffs provided by an off-duty flight attendant. He resisted so much, though, that he was able to physically break apart the first pair of flex cuffs .
Luckily, there was a second pair of flex cuffs were onboard the aircraft and ling with at least four seat belt extenders, El Dahr was successfully restrained and moved to a seat at the back of the plane.
Once on the ground, El Dahr was immediately taken into custody.
It wasn’t immediately clear why El Dahr wasn’t charged with the more serious crime of assaulting a crewmember which is punishable by up to 20 years imprisonment and a fine of up to $250,000.
JetBlue has not yet commented on the incident.
On Thursday, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) noted that unruly passenger incidents had dropped sharply since the beginning of the year but were still at a much higher rate than before the pandemic.
Delta Air Lines wants to set up a centralized no-fly list of unruly passengers so that a ban from one airline, will mean a ban from all airlines.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.