Video captured by another traveler and shared with a local news station appears to show a flight attendant asking someone on the plane if they were threatening him. When he turned around and walked up the aisle, the passenger ran up behind him and punched him in the back of the head as witnesses screamed.
“Acts of violence against our team members are not tolerated by American Airlines,” the airline said in a statement. “The individual involved in this incident will never be allowed to travel with us in the future, and we will work closely with law enforcement in their investigation.”
American said law enforcement officers met the plane when it landed and removed the passenger, who has not been identified. The statement thanked the crew members and said the airline was giving them the support they need.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Ciaran McEvoy, spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Central District of California, said in an email that an arrest had been made and that the federal prosecutor’s office was working with the FBI.
According to the Association of Professional Flight Attendants, which represents more than 24,000 American Airlines employees, passengers and crew members subdued the attacker. Julie Hedrick, the union’s national president, called the attack “dangerous, life-threatening behavior.”
“This violent behavior puts the safety of all passengers and crew in jeopardy and must stop,” the statement said.
The number of unruly passenger cases spiked earlier during the pandemic, especially as flight attendants had to enforce the now-dropped federal mask mandate.
In one of the worst attacks, a Southwest Airlines flight attendant was repeatedly punched in the face, leaving her with several chipped teeth in May 2021. The passenger was charged with two felonies. In October 2021, an American Airlines flight attendant suffered broken bones in her face and had to be hospitalized after an alleged attack by a passenger.
According to data from the Federal Aviation Administration, the agency received 5,981 reports of unruly passenger incidents last year, started 1,113 investigations and began enforcement action in 350 cases.
Through earlier this week, the agency has gotten 1,973 unruly passenger reports this year, started 680 investigations and initiated enforcement action in 468 cases.
Earlier this month, a New York woman was sentenced to four months in federal prison for disruptive behavior that led an American Airlines flight to be diverted last year.