Delta Plane Diverted After ‘Combative Passenger’ Assaults Marshal, Flight Attendant

by Jennifer Shea

A passenger on a Delta Airlines flight from Washington, D.C. to Los Angeles got unruly and assaulted a flight attendant and an air marshal Thursday evening. That forced the plane to land in Oklahoma City instead.

Another man reportedly helped air marshals aboard Delta Flight 342 to subdue the passenger. He said he saw the male passenger attempting to “get at” the flight attendant. According to Axios, the combative passenger was not wearing a mask as authorities took him into custody.

Oklahoma City Police Captain Arthur Gregory told Axios that an air marshal on the plane tried to arrest the passenger after the latter “assaulted a flight attendant.” But then the passenger allegedly “proceeded to assault the air marshal.”

They eventually got the passenger into handcuffs, and the pilot landed the plane at Will Rogers World Airport. Authorities then removed the passenger from the flight.

Delta Passenger Could Be Facing Some Stiff Penalties

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) told Axios it “investigates every unruly passenger report it receives.” But the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) could also get involved in this incident.

In August, the FAA launched an information-sharing protocol with the Justice Department in which it sends cases of unruly passengers to the FBI to investigate further. The FAA has sent the “most egregious cases” in for possible criminal prosecution.

Even when passengers avoid criminal prosecution, they often face hefty fines. One recent unruly passenger is facing a $40,000 fine.

FAA Policy Change Follows Mask Resistance, Jan. 6

The Delta passenger joins thousands of others who are now facing more serious consequences. The FAA policy change was announced on Jan. 13, in the immediate aftermath of Jan. 6, and following roughly a year of increases in combative passenger behavior, mostly over pandemic-related restrictions.

“The FAA has seen a disturbing increase in incidents where airline passengers have disrupted flights with threatening or violent behavior,” the FAA said in a press release at the time. “These incidents have stemmed both from passengers’ refusals to wear masks and from recent violence at the U.S. Capitol.”

In the past, the FAA has responded to passenger misbehavior with warnings, counseling, or civil penalties. As of this past January, however, the FAA began pursuing legal action against any passenger who “interferes” with crew members.

In the press release, the FAA also issued a veiled threat about no-fly lists, saying that while it does not have authority over the lists, it will “work closely” with the law enforcement and national security officials who do “on any reported security threats that may impact aviation safety.”

From January to November, the FAA saw 5,033 unruly passengers on planes. Approximately 3,642 of those cases pertained to mask-wearing on the aircraft. Nearly 1 in 5 flight attendants reported experiencing physical incidents in 2021, and 85 percent said they had dealt with unruly passengers in the course of their workday.