A California man who was caught on video punching an American Airlines flight attendant in the back of the head on a flight from Mexico to Los Angeles has been arrested, federal prosecutors said.
Alexander Tung Cuu Le, 33, of Westminster, was charged Thursday with one count of interfering with flight crew members and attendants, a felony that carries a statutory maximum penalty of 20 years in federal prison, the Justice Department said in a news release.
The charges come after the FBI said it had arrested an American Airlines passenger on suspicion of disturbing a flight crew, an incident that unfolded during a flight from San José 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 “due to an unruly passenger physically assaulting a flight attendant.”[ads1];
It said the plane was able to land safely and taxi to the gate, where officers removed the passenger.
In a video shared on social media, a flight attendant walks away from a passenger after saying: “Yes, that’s a no.” The passenger runs up and appears to hit the attendant in the back of the head, prompting other passengers to shout, with one shouting: “Oh my God!” It was not immediately clear what led to the incident.
The Ministry of Justice shed light on what was alleged to have happened in the run-up to the incident.
Le was alleged to have first gotten up from his seat about 20 minutes after takeoff while flight attendants were serving food and beverages, the department said, citing an affidavit filed with the complaint. He then allegedly grabbed an attendant’s left shoulder, asking for coffee, before moments later grabbing the attendant by both shoulders, causing them to “set up a defensive stance.”
The passenger then moved to the front of the plane and “allegedly loitered near the first-class cabin” before sitting in a vacant aisle, the department said. Another flight attendant approached Le and asked him to return to his assigned seat, it said.
Le allegedly refused to comply and instead stood up and “took a fighting stance,” making closed fists with both hands, which the flight attendant “interpreted as a threat,” the department said. The passenger was accused of swinging his arm at the flight attendant, but missed, it was said.
When the flight attendant turned to report Le’s behavior to the pilot, that’s when the passenger allegedly lunged at him and hit him in the back of the head.
After allegedly attacking the flight attendant, Le then fled toward the back of the plane, the department said. Several passengers apprehended him near an exit row and he was moved to another row, where his hands and legs were handcuffed, it added. Authorities said Le continually unbuckled his seat belt, prompting flight attendants to restrain him in his seat with seat belt extenders before the plane landed.
American Airlines said it would cooperate closely with police in the investigation.
It also said the passenger “would never be allowed to travel with us in the future.”
“Acts of violence against our team members are not tolerated by American Airlines,” it said.
The airline thanked the crew members for taking action, saying: “Our thoughts go out to our injured flight attendant and we are ensuring that they and their fellow crew members have the support they need at this time.”
US airlines reported a dramatic increase in disruptive or violent incidents last year, with the Federal Aviation Administration logging 5,981 “unruly passenger reports”. Most appeared to involve federal requirements that masks be worn because of the coronavirus pandemic, according to the FAA.