After a passenger allegedly attacked her on Wednesday, an American Airlines flight attendant suffered fractured bones in her face and had to be hospitalized, in what the company’s CEO called “one of the worst demonstrations of disorderly behavior we’ve ever encountered.”
On a flight from New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport to John Wayne Airport in Orange County, Calif., the incident occurred. The pilots decided to divert the airplane to Denver, where the passenger was detained momentarily.
According to Julie Hedrick, head of the Association of Professional Flight Attendants, which represents American Airlines flight attendants, the flight attendant reportedly bumped the passenger while traveling through the first-class cabin.
The flight attendant apologized, but the passenger got out of his seat, approached her in the aircraft’s galley, and hit her in the face, according to Hedrick.
The flight attendant was brought to a hospital for treatment of fractured bones in her face, according to Hedrick. She was eventually liberated.
A Southwest Airlines flight attendant lost many teeth after a passenger allegedly hit her in the face earlier this year, in a similar incident. The attacks follow an uptick in events in which customers have screamed obscenities, slammed flight attendants, insulted other passengers, and even attempted to open the cockpit door.
Problem customers, according to Hedrick, are not a new occurrence, but recent events have placed flight attendants on edge. The Federal Aviation Administration, which is in charge of enforcing airline laws, has observed a sixfold surge in rowdy passenger investigations in the last two years.
Hedrick stated, “We’ve never had passengers assault us like this.” “I believe the mental tiredness of ‘what am I going to be dealing with?’ for flight attendants going to work today — you just don’t know what’s going to happen on your flight today.”
According to Hedrick, the frequency of occurrences involving rowdy passengers has decreased since the summer peak. “It doesn’t matter when something like this happens,” she remarked.
American Airlines CEO Doug Parker said in a powerful video statement on Instagram that the airline would fight to have the passenger “prosecuted to the utmost degree feasible.” He stated that the individual will be barred from traveling on American Airlines.
“This kind of behavior has to stop,” Parker said, adding that the airline is also dealing with the FAA, which can impose fines of up to $50,000 in such cases.
During the coronavirus pandemic, the number of airline customers cited for “unruly behavior” has risen dramatically. Disagreements about federal rules that passengers wear masks when boarding planes have sparked some of the clashes.
More than 3,500 of the almost 5,000 incidents of rowdy behavior this year, according to the FAA, involve mask conflicts. Others have used alcohol, leading to the temporary suspension of sales on some aircraft.
The FAA introduced a “zero-tolerance” policy for poor behavior on planes in January. The FAA is investigating 923 cases, according to the most recent numbers, and has taken enforcement action in 216 of them. The FAA investigated 146 occurrences of rowdy behavior among passengers in 2019 when record numbers of people traveled.
After being assaulted on a flight, a Southwest flight attendant lost two teeth. The passenger was taken into custody.
According to Hedrick, there is no evidence that the incident on Wednesday was caused by a mask issue. It’s also unclear, she said, whether alcohol played a role. American is one of the numerous airlines that restricts the selling of alcoholic beverages on domestic flights. Alcohol is available in the airline’s first-class cabins.
Officials at Denver International Airport referred calls to the FBI’s local office, which is investigating the incident. Parker stated in his video message that the passenger had been apprehended. A request for comment from the FBI office was not immediately returned.
Hedrick added that the union is also investigating an incident that occurred in Honolulu on Wednesday. A customer allegedly spit on and smacked a flight attendant as they exited an airliner during the altercation.
Her union and others, she added, are still pushing for a nationwide “no-fly” list that would prevent such travelers from traveling.
Airlines keep their own “no-fly” lists, which are not shared between them. Aviation personnel, according to Hedrick, are also lobbying for stronger police presence and follow-up on what happens to passengers who are arrested.
Hedrick explained, “It’s not just the masks.” “The people that go with us have changed. Every day, their behavior on our aircraft, the safety of our flight attendants, and the safety of our passengers is jeopardized.”