Passenger Arrested After Bizarre Midair Assault
An American Airlines flight from Dallas to Bozeman was forced to make an emergency landing on Friday after an apparently intoxicated passenger allegedly punched a flight attendant in the face.
The incident occurred approximately an hour into American Airlines flight 1497. According to passenger accounts and court filings, 37-year-old Keith Fagiana of Lewisville, Texas began exhibiting disruptive behavior that quickly escalated. Witnesses say Fagiana was stumbling about the cabin, cursing loudly and making lewd comments towards female passengers.
When a flight attendant attempted to calm the passenger, Fagiana allegedly became aggressive. Court documents allege that he hit the flight attendant near her left eye, causing bleeding and swelling that required ice.
In light of the assault, the flight crew determined that Fagiana posed a serious safety risk. The pilot decided to divert to Rick Husband Amarillo International Airport in Amarillo, Texas, where Fagiana was taken into FBI custody.
|American Airlines flight 1497 departs Dallas/Fort Worth en route to Bozeman, MT
|Fagiana begins disruptive behavior, cursing and stumbling about cabin
|Fagiana assaults flight attendant
|Flight 1497 lands in Amarillo, Fagiana arrested
Belligerent Behavior Escalates on Tarmac
After landing in Amarillo, the situation only worsened as the impaired passenger resisted arrest.
Cell phone footage shows local police struggling to detain Fagiana and escort him off the aircraft. The court complaint alleges that he spit on one officer and later kicked another in the groin while being held at the security office.
Despite his extreme aggression, officers succeeded in taking him into custody without further incident or injury. The aircraft was also thoroughly searched and cleared for takeoff shortly thereafter.
Passengers say the outburst came without warning, leaving the crew shocked. Travelers described Fagiana as seemingly normal until about an hour into the flight, when he “snapped” and his friendly demeanor changed instantly. The reason for his swift behavioral shift remains unknown.
Intoxication a Likely Factor
While an investigation is still underway, intoxicants are the suspected catalyst behind the violent air rage incident.
The court filing states that Fagiana himself admitted to drinking “a couple double vodkas with lemonade” before boarding the flight. It also suggests that he continued consuming alcohol that he had brought on board, in violation of FAA regulations.
Multiple witnesses attest that the assailant was clearly drunk. Though rare, such cases highlight the unpredictable dangers of flying under the influence along with the need for vigilance on the airline’s part.
American Airlines policies prohibit intoxicated passengers from boarding flights altogether. The fact that Fagiana was served shows that staff failed to realize the extent of his inebriation initially.
The Association of Professional Flight Attendants has since criticized the airline’s pre-flight screening procedures. Meanwhile, American Airlines maintains that the passenger exhibited no warning signs before takeoff indicating how severely intoxicated he was or that he could become violent.
Flight Diverted 500 Miles Off Course
After the emergency landing in Amarillo, shocked passengers waited 90 minutes on the tarmac before the flight could resume.
The aircraft had traveled over 500 miles in the wrong direction during the diversion. Fuel also had to be replenished since it burned so much making the unexpected stop.
Once cleared by the FBI and Amarillo police, flight 1497 finally departed after midnight Central time. It arrived in Bozeman at 2:11 am Mountain time, over 6 hours behind schedule.
Many weary travelers were further inconvenienced, forced to scramble for hotel rooms in Bozeman at the last minute in the middle of the night. American Airlines has offered vouchers as compensation, but some say it is not enough considering the severity of the incident.
Keith Fagiana now faces serious criminal charges for his outrageous conduct, including:
- Interfering with flight crew members (Federal felony)
- Assault (State jail felony)
The FBI and FAA are also investigating, which could lead to additional charges. Convictions often result in hefty fines and years of imprisonment for such offenses.
Fagiana will remain detained without bond pending trial. Though previous air rage cases have ended in plea bargains, the brazen assault of a flight attendant makes that outcome unlikely.
Experts say the courts often deal harshly with violent passenger misconduct as a deterrent. The severe penalties reflect zero tolerance for acts that threaten aviation safety.
While rare, unruly passenger events have been trending upward since 2020. With travel rebounding, additional air marshals have started flying undercover. Meanwhile, flight attendants are receiving more self-defense training should physical attacks occur mid-flight.
Although upsetting to crew and travelers alike, authorities praise the American Airlines team for professionally diffusing the tense situation. Thanks to their skilled emergency response, tragedy was averted despite the passenger’s erratic aggression.
This frightening case serves as an important reminder to remain vigilant even as travel normalizes post-pandemic. Airlines say they are redoubling efforts on early intervention of problem flyer cases before they morph into dangerous air rage. The safety of crew and passengers remains an industry priority moving forward.
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