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Airline CEO calls attack on OC-bound flight ‘one of the worst displays of unruly behavior’ they’ve seen – Daily News

The FBI is investigating a passenger accused of assaulting a flight attendant on an Orange County-bound flight during what an airline CEO described as “one of the worst displays of unruly behavior we’ve ever witnessed.”

The attack on a Wednesday night American Airlines flight from John F. Kennedy International Airport to John Wayne Airport forced the crew to divert to Denver International Airport, where the alleged attacker was taken off the flight and placed in custody and the flight attendant received medical attention.

The incident comes as carriers have raised concerns about an uptick in violence in the air as flights have increased following the worst of the pandemic, while the FAA earlier this year announced a zero-tolerance policy toward unruly passengers.

Mask mandates have led to well-publicized meltdowns by other travelers, but the motivation for the apparent attack on Wednesday’s flight is still unclear. Some unconfirmed media reports indicated that it may have occurred after the attendant accidentally bumped the passenger and then immediately apologized.

Law enforcement officials have released little information about the attack.

Officials with the Denver Police Department declined to identify the passenger who was taken into custody, saying the FBI had taken over the investigation. FBI officials confirmed the investigation is ongoing, but said no arrests have been made.

American Airlines CEO Doug Parker in a video released Thursday said the passenger “violently and physically assaulted” a flight attendant.

“Let me assure you, American Airlines will not tolerate air flight misconduct of any kind, particularly toward our crew members or airport team,” Parker said. “As to this individual, I can guarantee you he will never be allowed to fly American Airlines again. But that is not enough. This type of behavior has to stop. And the best deterrent is aggressive criminal prosecution.”

The CEO said American Airlines will do everything they can to make sure the man is prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. He also said they are working with the FAA, which he noted has the power to fine disruptive passengers more than $50,000.

“This will not just end with a travel ban,” Parker said.

Video footage showed passengers booing and cursing the alleged attacker as he was removed from the plane. The footage also showed officers walking a tall, thin man wearing a hoodie and sweat pants handcuffed through the Denver airport.

After the flight arrived at John Wayne Airport, one of the passengers, Mackenzie Rose, told a videographer that she photographed the man after seeing him sitting off to the side while she exited the plane. Rose said she didn’t see the alleged attack, since she was seated in a different part of the plane, but recalled the cabin lights coming on halfway through the flight and the captain asking for two able bodied men to come to the front of the craft. Soon after, the passengers were told they were going to land in Denver.

Rose said she heard from another airline employee that the flight attendant was punched twice in the face and her nose was broken. But neither law enforcement nor the airline has confirmed the extent of the flight attendant’s injuries.

The airline CEO acknowledged that the incident comes in the wake of less high-profile incidents of disruptive behavior as passengers return to the skies.

“While the world re-opening brings many positive aspects, there has been a very disturbing downside,” Parker said. “We’ve all seen the reports of unruly behavior, people showing extreme disrespect, anger and impatiance toward each other. While that is certainly not the case on the overwhelming majority of flights, this is happening far too often.”

The FAA recently announced that fines against unruly passengers have reached $1 million. Since the beginning of the year the FAA has received more than 3,800 reports of unruly behavior, the agency reported, including more than 2,800 reports of passengers refusing to comply with the federal face mask mandate.

Among the incidents cited by the FAA was a passenger on a May 24 JetBlue flight who allegedly threw objects at other passengers, including his carry-on luggage, refused to get up off the aisle of the plane and grabbed a flight attendant by the ankles and put his head up her skirt.

On another JetBlue flight, a passenger allegedly refused to put a mask on and during a series of increasingly agitated actions threw a playing card at one passenger and threatened to harm him, made a stabbing gesture toward others, snorted what appeared to be cocaine and forced the crew to equip themselves with flex cuffs and ice mallets until they could land.

Some of the other reported incidents have also included violence toward airline employees, including a passenger on a Jan. 3 Frontier Airlines flight who allegedly assaulted and threatened two flight attendants while demanding to be let onto the flight deck.

The FAA has publicly touted their zero-tolerance campaign, and has reached out to airports asking them to coordinate with law enforcement to prosecute particularly egregious cases of misconduct on airplanes.

Along with the potential monetary penalties, fliers who assault or threaten a flight crew can be charged with violating federal law.

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