California Man Charged with Attacking Flight Attendant During Flight to Orange County

American Airlines said a flight attendant was physically assaulted Wednesday by a passenger during a flight from New York to California.

Mackenzie Rose

A 20-year-old Irvine man was arrested Monday on federal charges of attacking a flight attendant during a trip from New York bound for Santa Ana that had to be diverted to Denver.

Brian Hsu was charged with interference with a flight crew and assault, according to federal prosecutors in Colorado.

Hsu is accused of assaulting the flight attendant Wednesday aboard an American Airlines flight, which took off from John F. Kennedy International Airport and was bound for John Wayne Airport in Santa Ana before it had to be diverted to Denver International Airport, prosecutors said.

The alleged attack happened about halfway through the flight when the plane was over Ohio, one passenger said.

There have been more unruly behavior incidents and attacks than in the history of aviation, officials said. Vikki Vargas reports Oct. 29, 2021.

Several witnesses initially told reporters that the attack erupted over a dispute about wearing a mask.  

According to witnesses, the man was sitting in the business class of the cabin. A passenger who was seated nearby told NBC Los Angeles that they heard the flight attendant say, "Sir, get back," before she was assaulted about halfway through the trip.

“Someone punched a flight attendant in the nose, broke her nose,” Liv Johnson told NBCLA. Johnson said she saw the man being duct taped to his seat before the plane was diverted to Denver.

At least two passengers who spoke with NBC said they saw the flight attendant walking down the aisle after the assault with blood spattered on the outside of her mask, "which God bless her she was still wearing," one witness said.

Mackenzie Rose, who was also on the flight, said the man was angered over a mask dispute. She said she was under the impression that the man may have been under the influence of alcohol or "a substance."

Various media outlets in Denver reported that the flight attendant had accidentally bumped into Hsu -- a first-class passenger -- and apologized, but Hsu allegedly got out of his seat, walked to the airplane's galley and punched the flight attendant twice before returning to his seat.

An American Airlines flight from New York to California made an emergency landing in Denver after a passenger assaulted a flight attendant, authorities said. Law enforcement removed the passenger at the gate. Romney Smith reports.

“Acts of violence against our team members will not be tolerated by American Airlines," American Airlines said in a written statement. "The individual involved in this incident will never be allowed to travel with American Airlines in the future, but we will not be satisfied until he has been prosecuted to the full extent of the law. This behavior must stop, and aggressive enforcement and prosecution of the law is the best deterrent."

The airline announced that Hsu would no longer be permitted to fly on American.

The assault comes amid a surge in unruly airline passengers this year, who sometimes become violent. Federal Aviation Administration data shows the agency has received nearly 5,000 reports of unruly behavior by passengers so far this year, the vast majority — 3,580 reports — involve disputes over masks.

The FAA said it is investigating 923 other cases this year — nearly three times the number of investigations started in 2019 and 2020 combined. In January FAA Administrator Stephen Dickson announced a “zero-tolerance policy” in which passengers can face immediate enforcement action instead of warnings.

Law enforcement was investigating the assault and the FBI and FAA are investigating as well.

A man was arrested after becoming belligerent on a flight from Los Angeles to Salt Lake City. The outbursts were captured by another passenger on the flight. American Airlines issued a statement saying the police were called to the plane to remove the man after landing.
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