Last week an American Airlines passenger punched a flight attendant in the face, causing a broken nose. While nothing excuses that behavior, there might be more to the story than many had initially assumed.
American Airlines passenger punches flight attendant
We’ve seen an uptick in bad airline passenger behavior since the start of the pandemic. This has been completely unfair towards airline employees, who have had to endure a lot. Last week there was an incident on American Airlines that made national headlines.
On Wednesday, October 27, 2021, American Airlines flight 976 from New York (JFK) to Orange County (SNA) had to divert to Denver (DEN). Reports suggested that a 20-year-old passenger punched a flight attendant, causing the crew to make the decision to divert. The flight attendant suffered a broken nose, and had to be hospitalized overnight.
It goes without saying that this was a horrible incident. American Airlines CEO Doug Parker even posted a video message to Instagram, calling this “one of the worst displays” of extreme disrespect towards airline employees. He stated that the passenger in question will never be allowed to fly American Airlines again, and that the airline is doing everything possible to ensure that the passenger is prosecuted to the fullest extent possible.
The passenger’s version of events
While nothing excuses this sort of behavior towards another person, I do think it’s important to acknowledge that not all incidents of air rage are necessarily just people trying to be jerks. There’s a bit of background that has come to light, which I think is at least worth being aware of (again, it in no way excuses the behavior).
The passenger at the center of this incident has been charged with interfering with a flight crew, and assault within the special aircraft jurisdiction. He now faces up to 20 years in prison and up to $200,000 in fines. With this case now being in federal court, both sides have shared their versions of events.
According to the flight attendant who was assaulted:
- The flight attendant was in the galley, when she felt something strike her head; when she turned to see what had struck her, she saw the defendant, and asked him if he was okay
- The passenger didn’t apologize, but rather said he needed to use the lavatory
- The flight attendant told the passenger the lavatory was occupied, and that the seatbelt sign was on, so he needed to be seated
- The passenger then made a stretching motion again, but his elbow hit the flight attendant’s head
- The flight attendant took a “defensive posture with her arms out in front of her and her hands up,” at which point the passenger “charged at her, flailing his arms,” and then he “struck her in the face with the closed fist of his right hand”
According to the passenger who assaulted the flight attendant:
- The passenger was traveling home to California after having brain surgery in Rhode Island, in order to reconstruct portions of his skull; he had been badly injured during an assault in New York, which left him with psychological damage
- The passenger claims that he got up to use the lavatory, and stretched in the aisle, when he accidentally bumped the flight attendant
- At this point the passenger claims that the flight attendant “became agitated,” and began swinging at his head
- The passenger claims that he became scared the flight attendant would hit his head (where he just had surgery), so he raised his hand in defense, but he claims the flight attendant hit her nose on his palm, causing the injury
- The passenger’s mother also states that since his brain injury, he has symptoms of dizziness and becomes agitated more easily
Is it wrong to feel sorry for both parties?
If you ask me, this is an all around sad story. Should we feel terribly for the flight attendant who got assaulted? Yes, of course we should, she is the biggest victim in all of this, and got attacked unprovoked.
However, I also think we often assume that everyone involved in one of these air rage incidents is a malicious and horrible person who is looking to pick a fight. While that’s a possibility here, you also can’t rule out that some part of the passenger’s story may be the truth, or at least reflects his recollection of events:
- Assuming he had brain surgery, is it possible that he was dizzy and by mistake bumped into a flight attendant? I would think so
- Is it possible that he feared that this head could be hit, and that his intention was self defense? While I don’t buy that the injury was caused by the flight attendant hitting her nose on his palm, I don’t think it can be ruled out that he reacted out of shock, given that his head injury was allegedly due to him being assaulted
Let me once again emphasize that this doesn’t excuse any of his behavior, or the injury he caused someone else. Research should be done into seeing if this story is even true. If it is true, it sounds like his mom who was traveling with him should have been watching him more closely during the flight, to prevent an incident like this.
If this is all true, I at least have sympathy for what he’s going through…
Last Wednesday an American Airlines flight diverted to Denver, over an incident that was described by the company’s CEO as one of the worst displays of air rage the airline had seen. A passenger punched a flight attendant, and of course that’s awful and unacceptable. More details are emerging, and while they don’t change anything, I think they’re at least worth being aware of.
Where do OMAAT readers stand on this — does the passenger deserve a little less criticism based on what had happened to him, or…?