Denver, CO (WorkersCompensation.com) – An American Airlines flight was forced to make an unplanned landing in Denver Wednesday so a flight attendant could get medical treatment after being punched in the face by a passenger.
The incident happened on Flight 976 from New York to Santa Ana, California, Since then, in an Instagram post, Doug Parker, CEO of American Airlines, said the passenger had subsequently been banned from the airline.
“Last night, @AmericanAir had one of the worst displays we’ve seen, when a passenger violently assaulted one of our flight attendants,” Parker said. “Thankfully, our flight attendant is recovering and we are making sure she and her fellow crew members have the support they need. The passenger, however, will never be allowed to fly American again and we are doing everything we can to ensure they are prosecuted to the fullest extent possible. But at the end of the day, while these interactions are not the norm, even one is too many, and they must stop.”
According to initial reports, the attack was over a mask confrontation.
But witnesses and other flight crew members later said the attack was unprovoked.
In an interview with WABC-TV in New York one of the crew members said the flight attendant had bumped into the first class passenger by mistake earlier in the flight, where she quickly apologized. Later, the passenger walked to the galley area, punched the flight attendant twice in the face and then returned to his seat, the crew member said.
Passengers said the attackers was later duct taped to his seat, while a doctor on board the flight attended to the flight attendant.
The pilot diverted the plane to Denver so the flight attendant could be treated for a possible broken nose and other injuries.
“I understand that they actually punched her twice,” said one passenger. “I did see her walk back down the aisle afterwards. She had blood splattered on the outside of her mask.”
Witnesses also said the man had been drinking.
In recent months, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has asked bars in airports to not serve customers “to go” cups of alcohol in order to curb attacks, and asked that law enforcement aggressively prosecute unruly passengers. Due to the increased number of attacks on flight attendants and other crew members, the FAA also recently doubled the fines they could levy on unruly passengers.
The FAA has reported more than 4,900 incidents of unruly passengers between Jan. 1 and Oct. 26 of this year, and initiated more than 900 investigations. In 2020, the FAA only initiated 183 investigations, while in 2019 it initiated 146.
Julie Hedrick, president of the Association of Professional Flight Attendants, said while problem passengers are not new, the violence and frequency of recent incidents have put flight attendants and crew members on alert.
“We’ve never had passengers assault us like this,” Hedrick said. “I think for flight attendants going to work today, the mental exhaustion of ‘what am I going to be dealing with?’ — you just don’t know what’s going to happen on your flight today.”
Psychoanalyst Roberta Shaw told the Washington Post that employees placed in similar situations should try to de-escalate the situation.
“Be as defferential as possible,” she said. “Lower your voice, speak very slowly and look the person in the eye.”
But, she said, when it’s clear that a customer or passenger has started down the path of violent resistance, employees should get help immediately.
“If you can identify the trigger early, like as soon as the person argues something perfectly reasonable, like wearing a mask on a plane, that should be enough to let you know it’s time to withdrawal,” she said. “It’s time to go up to the front of the airplane and get the captain.”
In late September, Delta Airlines urged all major airlines to share their lists of passengers who had become unruly. It’s unclear whether or not the airlines have come together to do that.
But, on Friday morning, a Delta Airlines passenger was arrested after getting into an argument with a fellow passenger during boarding procedures.
Officials said Curtis Maurice Clayton, 30, punched German Montez, 43, after Montez placed something in the seat pocket on the back of Clayton’s seat. Clayton protested and the dispute escalated until it spilled out into the aisle and Clayton punched Montez, the Atlanta Police said.
Clayton was detained by passengers until police could arrive. He was subsequently damaged a police vehicle during the investigation into the incident and was later charged with battery and interference with government property.