Delta Plane Diverted to Okla. After Passenger Assaults Flight Attendant, Air Marshal

10December 2021

A flight from Washington, D.C., to Los Angeles was diverted to Oklahoma City after an unruly passenger assaulted a flight attendant and an air marshal who was on board the Delta Air Lines plane, police said.

Flight 342 took off from Reagan Washington National Airport at 5:16 p.m. ET Thursday, en route to LAX when a male passenger in his 30s became “combative,” according to Oklahoma City Police Capt. Arthur Gregory.

Gregory told NBC News the man assaulted the flight attendant and when the air marshal intervened, the passenger also assaulted him.

Video footage shared to social media from fellow passengers shows the maskless man shouting at the flight attendant, who has his hands up and repeatedly gestures to the passenger to take his seat. It was not clear what led to the dispute.

In another clip, the man is seen being restrained in his seat and later yelling “help.” A woman can be heard in the video asking the man to “be quiet” and “cover you mouth,” adding “you can die.”

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The plane was diverted to Oklahoma where Oklahoma City police escorted the still-maskless passenger off the plane, Gregory said. The man was questioned by the FBI and is being held at the Oklahoma County Detention Center, he said.

The flight continued on to Los Angeles after the passenger was removed.

In a statement, Delta praised the “quick action and professionalism” of its crew and air marshals for their handling of the situation.

The passenger has not been identified by authorities. It is not yet clear what charges he is facing.

Last month, Attorney General Merrick Garland directed U.S. attorneys across the country to prioritize prosecutions of federal crimes that occur on commercial flights amid a historic spike in cases involving unruly passengers.

Federal law prohibits interfering with a flight crew, including assaulting, intimidating or threatening crew members.

The Federal Aviation Association said last month it had launched 1,017 investigations into passenger behavior on flights this year. That is the highest total since the agency started keeping track in 1995. In the five years from 2016 through 2020, the agency averaged 136 investigations a year.

The agency also said it had referred 37 cases involving unruly airline passengers to the FBI for possible criminal prosecution since the number of disruptions on flights began to spike in January.

“The unacceptable disruptive behavior that we’re seeing is a serious safety threat to flights, and we’re committed to our partnership with the DOJ to combat it,” FAA Administrator Steve Dickson said.

Airlines and their unions have pressed the federal government to push more aggressively for criminal prosecution. Airlines have reported more than 5,500 incidents involving unruly passengers this year, with more than 3,990 of those involving people who refused to wear face masks as required by federal regulation.

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