An American Airlines flight attendant was left with blood splattered across the outside of her face mask after a passenger allegedly punched her at least twice in a violent assault during a flight between New York JFK and Santa Ana, California.
American Airlines flight AA976 was forced to divert to Denver on Wednesday afternoon where the suspect was detained by law enforcement on arrival.
Witnesses aboard the flight say the assault took place around halfway through the flight while the Airbus A321 jet was flying over Ohio. The dispute is said to have started because the suspect, who was sitting in First Class, was refusing to wear his face mask.
A spokesperson for American Airlines hit out at the suspect saying that the carrier would be seeking the strongest criminal charges possible.
“We are outraged by the reports of what took place on board. Acts of violence against our team members are not tolerated by American Airlines,” a spokesperson said in an emailed statement.
“We have engaged local law enforcement and the FBI and we are working with them to ensure they have all the information they need. The individual involved in this incident will never be allowed to travel with American Airlines in the future, but we will not be satisfied until he has been prosecuted to the full extent of the law.”
“This behavior must stop and aggressive enforcement and prosecution of the law is the best deterrent,” the statement continued.
“We thank our crew for their quick action and professionalism to ensure the safety of their fellow team members and customers on board. Our thoughts are with our injured flight attendant and ensuring that she and her fellow crew members have the support they need at this time.”
According to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), nearly 5,000 unruly passenger incidents have been reported to the agency so far this year – around 72 per cent of unruly passenger incidents are connected to mask disputes according to FAA data.
The FAA has dished out over $1 million in civil penalties in an attempt to curb unruly passenger incidents but after a brief lull, the incident rate is once again starting to creep up.
FAA Secretary Steve Dickson has called on law enforcement agencies to push for criminal charges against unruly passengers over concerns that confusion over jurisdiction means that many perpetrators never face charges.
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.