Passenger Attacks Flight Attendant, Air Marshal Mid-flight

14 Dec, 2021 Liz Carey


Oklahoma City, OK ( – Another flight, another assaulted flight attendant. 

On Thursday, a Delta Air Lines flight headed from Washington, D.C., to Los Angeles International Airport was diverted to Oklahoma City’s Will Rogers World Airport after a passenger attacked a flight attendant and an air marshal, officials said. 

According to Oklahoma City Police Department Capt. Arthur Gregory, it is not clear what started the incident. What is clear is that at some point, a male passenger got upset and assaulted a flight attendant. When an air marshal l tried to intervene, the passenger assaulted him as well, Gregory said.

Officials identified the suspect as Ariel Pennington, 35. Police said the air marshal detained the passenger and then took him into custody once the flight landed in Oklahoma City. From there, police officers escorted Pennington off the plane and held him until the FBI could question him. 

Pennington has been charged with disorderly conduct and public drunkenness. He was released on bond after nearly 5 hours in jail, and paying $334 in fines. 

Video of the incident showed a maskless man arguing with crew masked crew members, saying “You better lock me up. I’m going to beat your a--.” 

Both the flight attendant and air marshal were injured in the incident, but neither needed medical treatment, officials said. 

Delta praised the flight crew and air marshal in controlling the situation. 

“Delta applauds the quick action and professionalism of the crew and Federal Air Marshals on Delta flight 324 from Washington, D.C. to Los Angeles, which diverted to Oklahoma City after a customer became unruly and was removed from the flight by local law enforcement,” Delta said in a statement. “We apologize to our customers for the inconvenience.” 

Gregory, with the Oklahoma Police, said the FBI is expected to file charges over the incident. 

The incident is the latest in a surge in unruly passenger events that have left flight crew members injured. 

In November, a Southwest Airlines flight attendant had to be hospitalized after an unruly passenger on a flight from Dallas to New York City hit her in the head with a closed fist. The passenger, Arielle Jean Jackson, 32, had been seated in the back of the plane and got into a verbal altercation with the flight attendant before the incident, officials said. Jackson was arrested and charged with aggravated assault. 

And in May, an unruly passenger allegedly knocked two teeth out of the mouth of a Southwest Airlines flight attendant. Charges filed against Vyvianna Quinonez include assault resulting in serious bodily injury and interfering with a flight crew member. 

According to the criminal complaint filed in September, during the final descent of the flight from Sacramento to San Diego, Quinonez unbuckled her seat belt and pulled her tray table down – a violation of federal regulations. After a flight attendant asked her to buckle her seat belt, return her tray table to the proper position and wear her face mask, Quinonez began filming the flight attendant with her cell phone. When she was questioned about it, the complaint states, Quinonez pushed the flight attendant, punched her and pulled her hair. As a result, three of the flight attendant’s teeth were chipped – two so badly damaged they required crowns. The flight attendant also suffered from a cut under her left eye that needed four stitches, and bruising to her left eye and forearm. 

In January, the FAA launched a “zero tolerance” policy against unruly passengers and has increased penalties for violations. As of Dec. 7, according to the Federal Aviation Administration, there have been 5,553 reports of unruly passengers, 1,017 of which are being investigated. So far, 292 cases have been forwarded for enforcement. 

As part of the FAAs Reauthorization Bill, the FAA increased the amount it can propose as a penalty to up to $37,000 per violation for an unruly passenger case. Previously, the maximum civil penalty was $25,000. The FAA said one incident can result in multiple violations, and multiple penalties. 

In one recent case, the FAA proposed a penalty of more than $40,000 for an unruly passenger. In that incident, the FAA said, the passenger brought and consumed their own alcohol aboard a Southwest Airlines flight, a violation of federal law. When flight crew members asked the passenger to stop drinking, he then sexually assaulted the flight attendant before going into the bathroom to smoke marijuana. 

The passenger was arrested for resisting arrest and public intoxication when the plane landed in San Diego. 

The FAA has said it is referring its “most egregious” cases to the FBI for potential criminal prosecution, but in August, FAA Administrator Stephen Dickson said in a statement that referring incidents to the FBI should serve as a warning. 

"If you disrupt a flight, you risk not just fines from the FAA but federal criminal prosecution as well," he said in a statement. 

On Nov. 24, U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland announced that he was directing the U.S. Department of Justice to prioritize the prosecution of federal crimes committed on planes and at airports, including those of unruly passengers, giving law enforcement more power and resources to investigate and prosecute those crimes. 

Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, applauded the move. 

“It’s about time! Consequences need to be swift and clear to keep travel safe and protect the people on the frontlines who have worked through all the stresses of this pandemic," the union said in a statement. "We want to take people to New Orleans, Seattle, Fort Lauderdale, or to see Grandma. We do not want to take them to jail. But the DOJ can now make it clear that’s where you’re going if you refuse to cooperate and act out violently on a plane. Straight to jail without passing GO.” 

This summer, a survey of nearly 5,000 flight attendants found that dealing with unruly passengers is a workplace hazard. More than 85 percent of the respondents said they had dealt with an unruly passenger in the first six months of 2021. More than half, 58 percent, said they had faced more than five incidents, and 17 percent said the incident had turned physical.

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    • Liz Carey

      Liz Carey has worked as a writer, reporter and editor for nearly 25 years. First, as an investigative reporter for Gannett and later as the Vice President of a local Chamber of Commerce, Carey has covered everything from local government to the statehouse to the aerospace industry. Her work as a reporter, as well as her work in the community, have led her to become an advocate for the working poor, as well as the small business owner.

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