American Airlines passenger charged after being filmed hitting a flight attendant

A California man caught on video punching an American Airlines flight attendant on a flight from Mexico to Los Angeles has been arrested, federal prosecutors said.

Alexander Tung Cuu Le, 33, of Westminster, was indicted Thursday on one charge of interference with flight crew members and servants, a crime carrying a statutory maximum sentence of 20 years in federal prison, the Justice Department said in a press release.

The indictment comes after the FBI said it detained an American Airlines passenger on suspicion of meddling with a flight crew, an incident that happened Wednesday during a flight from San Jose del Cabo, Mexico, to Los Angeles.

American Airlines said law enforcement officers were waiting for Flight 377 when it landed in Los Angeles “because of an unruly passenger who physically assaulted a flight attendant.”

It said the plane landed safely and taxied to the gate, where officers removed the passenger.

In video shared on social media, a flight attendant walks away from a passenger after he appears to have said, “Yeah, that’s a no.” The passenger comes running and appears to punch the attendant in the head, causing other passengers to scream, with one yelling, “Oh my God!” It was not immediately clear what led to the incident.

The Justice Department has made clear what would have happened in the run-up to the incident.

Le initially allegedly rose from his seat about 20 minutes after takeoff while flight attendants provided food and drinks, the department said, citing an affidavit filed with the complaint. He then allegedly grabbed the left shoulder of an attendant and asked for coffee, before moments later grabbing the attendant by both shoulders and prompting them to “take a defensive stance.”

The passenger then went to the front of the plane and “allegedly hangs out near the first-class cabin” before sitting down in an unoccupied aisle, the department said. Another flight attendant approached Le and requested that he return to his assigned seat, it said.

Le reportedly refused to obey and instead stood up and “assumed a fighting stance,” making clenched fists with both hands, which the flight attendant “conceived as a threat,” the department said. The passenger was accused of waving his arm at the flight attendant, but missed.

When the flight attendant turned to report Le’s behavior to the pilot, the passenger is said to have rushed over to him and hit him on the back of the head.

After allegedly assaulting the flight attendant, Le fled to the rear of the plane, the department said. Several passengers stopped him near a row at the exit and he was moved to another row, where his hands and legs were handcuffed, it added. Authorities said Le constantly unbuckled his seat belt, causing flight attendants to strap him to the seat with seat belt extenders before the flight landed.

American Airlines said it would work closely with police on the investigation.

It also said the passenger “should never travel with us in the future”.

“Violence against our team members will not be tolerated by American Airlines,” the statement said.

The airline thanked the crew members for springing into action, saying: “Our thoughts are with our injured flight attendant and we are making sure they and their fellow crew members receive 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 recording 5,981 “unruly passenger reports.” Most appeared to include federal requirements for wearing masks due to the coronavirus pandemic, according to the FAA.

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