Yet another incident involving an unruly airline passenger is making headlines.
An American Airlines AAL, -0.11% flight to Washington, D.C., from Los Angeles was diverted to Kansas City, Mo., on Sunday because of a passenger “displaying erratic behavior,” according to the carrier.
The airline told MarketWatch that the passenger was “ultimately subdued by our crew … with the help of other passengers” and that law enforcement met the flight after the unscheduled landing.
The passenger was identified as Juan Remberto Rivas in a Daily Beast report, which described him as having had a “paranoia-fueled fit” during the flight. CNN didn’t identify the passenger by name but referred to him as a 50-year-old male in its report.
News and social-media accounts of the incident paint a much fuller, and scarier, picture. The passenger tried to open the plane’s door following a scuffle with a flight attendant, according to CNN. The flight attendant was apparently able to put a halt to the situation by hitting the man twice in the head with a coffee pot. As American Airlines noted, other passengers stepped in to assist the crew.
Earlier in the flight, the man had reportedly told flight attendants that individuals were harming his family — and he indicated that one of the individuals was on the plane, the CNN account noted. At one point, the man walked to the cockpit area of the plane. He also grabbed a plastic utensil and brandished it as if it were a shank and tried to break a small bottle of sparkling wine.
The passenger was charged with one count of assaulting a flight attendant, according to CNN. The U.S. Justice Department didn’t immediately respond to a MarketWatch request for more information about the incident and charges.
Mouaz Moustafa, a Washington, D.C., resident aboard the plane, shared details of the situation with the press and on social media. He said on Twitter that during the incident, it “felt like the plane was free falling and many feared the worst because people weren’t fully aware of what was unfolding.”
Incidents involving unruly airline passengers have been dramatically on the rise since late 2020, according to the Federal Aviation Administration. This year alone, the FAA reports that 394 incidents took place through Feb. 8, with 255 of those related to face-mask issues. Protective face coverings have been required by the Transportation Security Administration throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
In recent testimony to a U.S. Senate panel overseeing transportation, American Airlines CEO Doug Parker said his customer service staff have to devote a “significant share of their work … to enforcing mask mandates and other pandemic-related policies.” He added that “customer emotions run high, and the industry has experienced an unsettling raft of passenger disturbances and assaults onboard aircraft and in airports,” though he indicated that not all incidents are mask-related.
Either way, Parker said that “the general level of disrespect, anger and impatience our team has had to manage in recent months is simply inexcusable. It should not be part of their jobs.”