Federal prosecutors said a California man was caught on video punching an American Airlines flight attendant in the back of the head on a flight from Mexico to Los Angeles.
Alexander Tung Ko Lee, 33, of Westminster, was charged on Thursday with one count of interfering with cabin crew and flight attendants, an offense punishable by a maximum of 20 years in prison, the Department of Justice said in a press release.
The charges come after the FBI said it detained an American Airlines passenger on suspicion of interfering with cabin crew, an incident that occurred during a flight from San Jose del Cabo, Mexico, to Los Angeles on Wednesday.
American Airlines said law enforcement officers were waiting for Flight 377 when it landed in Los Angeles “because of a naughty passenger who physically assaulted a flight attendant.”
She said the plane managed to land safely and made its way to the gate, where officers turned away the passenger.
In a video shared on social media, a hostess turns away from a passenger after she appears to have said, “Yeah, that’s a no.” The passenger ran and appeared to hit the servant in the back of the head, causing the other passengers to scream, and one of them shouted, “Oh my God!” The cause of the accident was not immediately clear.
The Department of Justice highlighted what allegedly happened in the lead-up to the incident.
Citing an affidavit filed with the complaint, the ministry said Lu allegedly initially got up from his seat about 20 minutes after takeoff while flight attendants were providing food and drink service. He allegedly grabbed the left shoulder of an attendee, ordered a coffee, moments before then, and grabbed the attendant by the shoulders, causing them to “take a defensive stance”.
The administration said the passenger then moved to the front of the plane and “slowed down near the first-class cabin” before sitting in an unoccupied aisle. Another flight attendant approached Lu and asked him to return to the seat assigned to him.
The ministry said Lu refused to obey and instead stood up and “taken a combative stance”, keeping his fists closed with both hands, which the flight attendant interpreted as a “threat”. She added that the passenger was accused of swinging his arm at the flight attendant, but he missed it.
When the flight attendant turned around to inform the pilot of Lou’s behavior, that was when the passenger allegedly rushed towards him and punched him in the back of the head.
The department said that after allegations of assault on the flight attendant, Lu fled towards the back of the plane. It added that several passengers arrested him near the exit row and he was taken to a different row where his hands and feet were tied. Authorities said Lu constantly loosened his seat belt, prompting flight attendants to restrain him to the seat with seat belt extenders before the plane landed.
American Airlines said it will work closely with law enforcement in its investigation.
She also said the passenger “will never be allowed to travel with us in the future.”
“American Airlines does not tolerate acts of violence against members of our team,” she said.
Thanking crew members for jumping into action, the airline said: “Our thoughts are with the injured flight attendant, and we are ensuring they and their fellow crew members have the support they need at this time.”
US airlines reported a spike in disruptive or violent incidents last year, with the Federal Aviation Administration registering 5,981 “unruly passenger reports”. Most appear to involve federal mask-wearing requirements due to the coronavirus pandemic, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.