Flight diverted after passenger allegedly roughs up flight attendant

Author: Brian Dakss / CBS
Published: Updated:
Man who allegedly roughed up American Airlines flight attendant. Credit: CBS Los Angeles

An American Airlines flight from New York to Orange County, California, outside Los Angeles, was diverted to Denver Wednesday after a passenger allegedly assaulted a female flight attendant in what witnesses describe as a dispute over wearing a mask.

The carrier says it’s “outraged.”

American says Flight 976 from John F. Kennedy International Airport to John Wayne Airport, in Santa Ana, was diverted “due to a passenger who physically assaulted a flight attendant. The aircraft landed safely and taxied to the gate, where law enforcement removed and apprehended the passenger.”

The Federal Aviation Administration says the plane landed at 6:37 p.m. Denver time, adding that it will investigate.

One passenger, Mackenzie Rose, told CBS Los Angeles the incident occurred about halfway through the flight, when the plane was over Ohio. The passenger suspected of assaulting the flight attendant was apparently in first or business class.

Several witnesses told the station the incident was over wearing a mask. Rose provided CBS L.A. with what she said is a photo of the man in Denver International Airport:

Rose told the station the flight attendant had blood on her after the assault.

“I saw her walk by and she had blood on the outside of her mask, which bless her, she was still wearing,” Rose said.

In a statement, American said it’s outraged by the reports of what took place on board. Acts of violence against our team members are not tolerated by American Airlines. We have engaged local law enforcement and the FBI and we are working with them to ensure they have all the information they need. The individual involved in this incident will never be allowed to travel with American Airlines in the future, but we will not be satisfied until he has been prosecuted to the full extent of the law.”

The flight attendant was taken to a local hospital, CBS L.A. reports, but the airline said it couldn’t comment any further on her condition due to privacy concerns.

No other injuries were reported. The suspect’s name wasn’t released. The plane continued to Santa Ana, where it arrived Wednesday night.

Unruly passenger behavior on planes has been increasing since travel re-opened after the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The FAA has received almost 5,000 reports of such behavior this year, and more than 215 cases ended with penalties, according to CBS Denver. Violence against airline employees is federal offense, CBS L.A. points out.

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