A passenger punched an American Airlines flight attendant twice in the face, union officials said.
The airline’s CEO said it was working to ensure the attacker is “prosecuted to the fullest extent.”
The assault is one in a barrage of abuse that attendants have faced since travel surged this summer.
An American Airlines flight attendant was admitted to the hospital with broken bones in her face after she was attacked by a passenger on Wednesday.
The assault happened on Flight 976 from New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport to John Wayne Airport in Orange County, California. After the incident, the plane diverted to Denver, and the passenger was detained, American Airlines said.
The flight attendant had bumped into the passenger, who later got up from his seat and punched her twice in the face in front of the galley, said officials from the Association of Professional Flight Attendants, who cited witnesses on the plane, CBSLA reported.
One witness, Mackenzie Rose, told the outlet that the flight attendant walked back down the aisle and had “blood splattered on the outside of her mask.”
Another witness said there happened to be a doctor on the flight who assessed the injury and said the attendant’s nose wasn’t broken, but it was bleeding, ABC News reported.
Julie Hedrick, APFA’s president, said the attendant initially apologized to the passenger after she bumped into him in the first-class cabin, but that didn’t stop him from attacking her, The Washington Post reported.
The assault was “one of the worst displays of unruly behavior we’ve ever witnessed,” said Doug Parker, American Airlines’ CEO, in a video statement on Thursday.
The offending passenger was barred from flying with the airline, said Parker, who added that a travel ban “is not enough” as punishment.
“We are doing everything we can to ensure he is prosecuted to the fullest extent possible. We’re also working with the FAA, who has the authority to levy fines of over $50,000 to disruptive passengers,” he said, referring to the Federal Aviation Administration.
Flight attendants across the US faced a swell in physical and verbal abuse when US travel eclipsed pre-pandemic levels this summer, Insider’s Allana Akhtar reported. Many described how the violence affected their mental health and created an “emotionally abusive” work environment.
“We’ve never had passengers assault us like this,” Hedrick said, referring to Wednesday’s incident, The Post reported.
“I think for flight attendants going to work today, the mental exhaustion of ‘what am I going to be dealing with?’ – you just don’t know what’s going to happen on your flight today,” she added.
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