American Airlines is “outraged” after an unruly passenger assaulted a flight attendant on Wednesday, causing the aircraft to divert its course.
Witnesses told local media the male passenger had been drinking, and other reports and tweets alluded his violence to mask wearing, but a source familiar with the investigation told ABC News it was unprovoked.
The Flight 976 from JFK International Airport was en route towards John Wayne Airport in California and landed in Denver due to the incident.
According to witnesses, the passenger allegedly punched a female flight attendants’ nose which sent her to hospital.
Another witness, Mackenzie Rose, told CBS News that the flight attendant was assaulted halfway through the trip as the aircraft passed over Ohio.
“I understand that he actually punched her twice,” Rose said after landing. “I did see her walk back down the aisle afterwards. She had blood splattered on the outside of her mask.”
The reports come as unruly passenger numbers have surged drastically due to the pandemic, seeing a number of airlines halt alcohol services because of violent customers.
In a statement to NPR, the Federal Aviation Administration said the aircraft was an Airbus A321 and landed in Denver at around 6:37pm local time.
“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,” said the Texas-based airline in a statement.
“This behavior must stop, and aggressive enforcement and prosecution of the law is the best deterrent.”
As of yet, no formal arrests have been made according to the FBI and United States Attorney’s Office in Colorado, but investigations have begun.
“The United States Attorney’s Office takes seriously all matters involving potential threats to the safety of airline flights, crew or passengers,” the office said in a statement.
The FAA can impose fines of up to US$37,000 per violation for unruly passengers.
According to the latest data, almost 5,000 unruly passenger reports have been made in 2021, mostly in relation to mask mandates.
In late August, the FAA handed out an additional US$531,545 in fines to unruly passengers, predominately to travellers on low-cost carriers.
The additional penalties were handed out to 34 airline passengers, bringing the total to over US$1 million in fines for 2021.
In July, a survey was released by the Association of Flight Attendants revealing that out of 5,000 staff interviewed, 84 per cent had handled at least one unruly passenger this year.