A California man caught on video hitting an American Airlines flight attendant on a flight from Mexico to Los Angeles was arrested this week, the Justice Department said, the latest example of unruly behavior in the air as coronavirus restrictions ease and travel increases.
The man, Alexander Tung Cuu Le, 33, of Westminster, Calif., was charged Thursday with one charge of meddling with flight crew members a day after he ran up to a flight attendant and hit him on the back of the head. the Justice Department said in a press release. mr. Le could face up to 20 years in prison if convicted.
Jelani Lindsey, an attorney with the Federal Defense Attorney’s Office representing Mr. Le, did not immediately respond to a call for comment on Thursday.
The Association of Professional Flight Attendants, a union that represents about 24,000 flight attendants at American Airlines, said in a statement that “this violent behavior endangers the safety of all passengers and crew and must stop.”
The charges against Mr Le came as air travelers and crews continued to experience an unusually high number of disruptions since the start of the pandemic. In 2019, 146 investigations were launched into unruly aircraft. So far, there have been 680 such studies in 2022, according to data from the Federal Aviation Administration.
Last year, much of the aggressive behavior of passengers was linked to the enforcement of masks. The FAA collected nearly 6,000 reports of unruly passengers last year, and about 4,300 of those were mask-related, according to the FAA
The pace appears to have slowed this year, although it remains above prepandemic levels. There have been almost 2,000 reports since Tuesday. The Transportation Security Administration said earlier this year it would stop enforcing a mask mandate on airplanes after a federal judge in Florida lifted the requirement.
The delivery on Flight 377 began about 20 minutes after takeoff on Wednesday, when Mr. Le rose from his seat while flight attendants provided food and drinks, according to an affidavit from the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Mr. Le grabbed a flight attendant’s left shoulder from behind and asked for coffee, the affidavit says. He then grabbed both the flight attendant’s shoulders from behind, causing the flight attendant, who is not named by name, to step back and “take a defensive stance,” the affidavit said.
Mr. Le then walked to the front of the plane, lingered by the first-class cabin and sat in an unoccupied row, the affidavit said.
Another flight attendant, identified in the affidavit as SBG, approached Mr Le and asked him to return to his seat. But Mr Le stood up and closed both of his fists as he took a “fighting stance,” the affidavit said. When SBG went to the front of the plane to report the behavior to the pilot, Mr. Le ran up to him and punched him in the back of the head, the affidavit said.
A passenger’s video shows people screaming as a man wearing an orange floral-patterned shirt punches a flight attendant.
“Oh my god,” a passenger shouts.
After hitting SBG, Mr. Le shuffled to the rear of the plane, according to the affidavit. Subsequently, the affidavit states, “several passengers detained Le near a line at the exit.”
Le was later moved to another row and his hands and legs were handcuffed, the Justice Department said. Flight attendants had to secure him to his seat with seatbelt extenders because he kept unfastening his seatbelt, the affidavit said.
Curtis Blessing, an American Airlines spokesperson, said in a statement that Mr. Le was met by law enforcement officers upon arrival in Los Angeles.
“The person involved in this incident,” he added, “will never travel with us again in the future.”
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