A woman stands accused of assaulting a United Airlines flight attendant on a flight from Anchorage to San Francisco in a dispute over a face mask that didn’t even involve her. Debby Dutton of Cypress, Texas, has been charged by federal prosecutors with interference with a flight crew member and could face up to 20 years in jail if found guilty.
The incident occurred on June 29, 2021, on what should have been a routine four and half hour flight from Alaska to California. Shortly after boarding, flight attendants made multiple announcements that the federal face mask mandate was in effect and that passengers would be reminded to wear their mask if it slipped below their nose or mouth.
According to an FBI affidavit filed in federal court in Houston on Friday, flight attendants explicitly told passengers that they would be required to wake them up if their face mask slipped off while sleeping. The same procedure applies to checking seat belts in the event of turbulence and a blanket is covering the belt.
Around three and a half hours into the flight, a flight attendant was passing through the cabin collecting trash when she noticed the face mask on a sleeping passenger had slipped off. The flight attendant woke up the passenger by tapping on his shoulder and he readjusted his mask without complaint after being reminded to do so.
What should have been an innocuous interaction, however, quickly escalated when the passenger’s wife intervened and shouted at the flight attendant: “You don’t touch my husband, why you wake him?” according to the affidavit.
The flight attendant tried to explain but the 50-year-old suspect allegedly continued screaming at the crew member and walked towards the flight attendant and then pushed them in the arm so hard that they had to take a step back to maintain their balance.
Dutton pushed the flight attendant in the arm once more before returning to her seat.
The flight attendant immediately reported the incident to the Captain and law enforcement were waiting to meeting Dutton on arrival in San Francisco. Two other passengers say they witnessed Dutton pushing the flight attendant and other passengers say they heard a commotion at the time of the alleged assault.
After arrival, the flight attendant was sent to the hospital for evaluation. Photos show bruising to the flight attendants arm from the alleged assault.
Dutton is next due to appear in court on November 16.
As well as criminal prosecution, Dutton also faces the prospect of a civil penalty of up to $35,000 from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). According to the latest data from the FAA, the agency has not yet ruled on whether Dutton should face a fine for her alleged behavior aboard United Airlines flight UA730.
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.