Incident Occurs On American Airlines Flight 1497
An American Airlines flight from Dallas to Bozeman, Montana was forced to make an emergency landing on Friday after an apparently intoxicated passenger assaulted a flight attendant.
The incident occurred approximately one hour into American Airlines flight 1497. According to an affidavit filed in the Amarillo Division of the Northern District of Texas, first class passenger Keith Fagiana ordered a rum and coke and was seen taking pills. He later stood up and punched a flight attendant in the back of the head.
The flight attendant, who has not been publicly identified, was providing drink service in the first class section when he felt something strike him in the back of the head. He turned around to see Mr. Fagiana standing up, who then punched the flight attendant in the face with a closed fist.
Emergency Landing In Amarillo, FBI Takes Custody of Passenger
After the assault, the plane was diverted to make an emergency landing at Rick Husband Amarillo International Airport in Amarillo, Texas. The flight’s captain decided on the unscheduled landing after the attack on the flight attendant, who sustained injuries to his nose and chin.
Upon landing in Amarillo, Fagiana was taken into custody by airport police and the FBI. He faces a charge of interference with flight crew members and attendants. According to the FBI’s affidavit, Fagiana seemed confused about his surroundings after disembarking in Amarillo, asking “where am I? and “what state are we in?”
Passenger Admitted Drinking Rum Before Flight
Fagiana later admitted to authorities that he had been drinking before and during the flight.
“Fagiana stated that he drank some Captain Morgan mini bottles he brought with him to the airport before boarding the plane,” the affidavit said.
The flight crew also reported that he was seen taking pills during the flight. Toxicology results are still pending.
Previous Incidents With Unruly Airline Passengers
This incident comes amidst an ongoing spike of unruly passenger behavior on flights over the past two years. According to FAA data, there were nearly 6,000 unruly passenger reports last year. While the majority were related to mask requirements, passenger violence against airline crew has become an increasing problem.
In one incident last March, an American Airlines passenger punched a flight attendant in the nose, breaking her nose. He was subdued with the help of an off-duty officer and the flight diverted to Denver.
Other airlines like Delta have reported over 1,900 cases of unruly passengers in 2022, including over 350 for not complying with masking policies.
Flight Attendant Union Calls for Better Protections
The latest assault has again brought calls for increased protections for airline staff.
“We need to take every measure possible to ensure no one ever has to face attacks like these as part of their job,” said Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA union.
The union has been pushing for better tracking of unruly passengers, more air marshals on flights, and recently called on airlines to ban passengers arrested for an onboard disruption.
American Airlines currently does not have such a passenger ban policy.
|Unruly Passenger Incidents Reported
Flight Diverts to Bozeman After Re-boarding
After a four hour delay in Amarillo and with a new flight crew, American Airlines flight 1497 eventually continued on to Bozeman, Montana.
It arrived at 7:25 pm local time, re-boarding in Amarillo with all passengers except Fagiana. He remains in police custody pending charges.
The assaulted flight attendant did not continue on the flight to Bozeman. Details on his injuries or condition have not been released publicly.
Legal Consequences, FAA Fines Loom for Unruly Passengers
The FAA has taken an increasingly strict stance on unruly airline passengers over the past two years. In addition to criminal charges, passengers who assault crew members face stiff financial penalties.
According to FAA guidance updated last year, passengers interfering with crew members can face fines of up to $37,000 per incident. Based on recent similar cases, its likely Fagiana will face tens of thousands of dollars in civil fines on top of his criminal charges.
The FAA also added sexual misconduct to its “zero tolerance” list of unruly behaviors in 2021. Other offenses like refusing to wear a mask, assaulting crew or passengers, or preventing flight attendants from doing their duties can all trigger these substantial fines.
Flight Crews Push Lawmakers for Stronger Protections
In response to the continued incidents of passenger violence, airlines and unions are pressing U.S. lawmakers to take action.
The FAA Reauthorization Act of 2022 directed the agency to work with airlines on better information sharing for potential unruly passengers. Last year also saw increased funding to train air marshals in self defense and de-escalation tactics.
But flight attendant advocates say more needs to be done. The AFA-CWA continues to lobby Congress to create a new “disruptive passenger” no-fly list to prevent recurrences from the small percentage of consistently violent offenders.
They also would like more air marshals deployed on routes known for frequent passenger issues. Though budget restraints remain an obstacle to reach that goal in the near term.
This story is still developing and further details on this incident or new airline policies may emerge. But it reflects an ongoing issue that airlines, passengers, and crew will continue grappling with to ensure comfort, safety and security onboard flights.
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