Hawaiian Air crew member ‘shaken up’ by alleged attack

  • PETER INGRAM

A Hawaiian Airlines flight attendant was “understandably shaken up” but is doing well following an alleged assault by a passenger Thursday aboard a plane bound for the Big Island, President and CEO Peter Ingram said in a memo to employees.

The incident occurred shortly after flight HA152 left Honolulu for Hilo at 7:30 a.m., Hawaiian Airlines spokesman Alex Da Silva said in a statement.

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Soon after departure, a passenger assaulted a flight attendant who was walking in the aisle.

According to Da Silva, the pilot returned the plane to Honolulu, where the passenger deplaned and was met by authorities.

The flight attendant was evaluated for injuries and released from work to rest. The aircraft departed Honolulu again at 9:09 a.m.

“These incidents are a hot topic in the media, of course, and each time another one happens we are all rightly outraged,” Ingram wrote. “It’s entirely unacceptable. The (Federal Aviation Administration) has gotten the message and is stepping up fines and enforcement.

“We are fortunate that we live in and serve a place that values community,” he continued. “People in Hawaii are uniquely interconnected and care for one another. Perhaps consequently, we see these incidents with less frequency than some of our peers. That said, we have zero tolerance for disruptive and dangerous behavior in our cabins and have banned or denied boarding to 98 passengers so far this year.”

State Department of Public Safety spokeswoman Toni Schwartz said that deputy sheriffs assigned to the Daniel K. Inouye International Airport met with Hawaiian Airlines officials Thursday to “escort an unruly passenger off the plane.”

The deputies arrested a 32-year-old male passenger for third-degree assault, a misdemeanor.

Schwartz said the case has been turned over to federal authorities. No additional information was available.

Hawaii lawmakers denounced the alleged assault.

“This attack is reprehensible,” U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz said in a statement. “I’ve been in direct contact with Department of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, who has assured me that this incident will be fully investigated by the (Federal Aviation Administration). The assailant must be held accountable and prosecuted to the full extent of the law. There should be zero tolerance for this kind of despicable attack.”

U.S. Rep. Kai Kahele, who is a commercial pilot, said on Twitter that unruly passenger behavior is on the rise and puts airline workers and crews in immediate danger.

“I also want to emphasize that passengers and individuals that assault, threaten, intimidate, interfere with airline crew members, that the FAA and the Department of Justice need to conduct swift but thorough enforcement investigations,” Kahele said in a video shared with that tweet. “They need to impose at least civil penalties against those passengers, and if those civil penalties are not deterring really criminal activity by these airline passengers, that the Department of Justice needs to look at how these individuals can be criminally prosecuted.”

According to the Associated Press, the rate of unruly passengers on airline flights is “down sharply from early this year, but is mostly unchanged over the past three months and remains more than twice the level seen in late 2020, according to government figures.”

The FAA on Thursday took credit for the recent decrease, linking it to the agency’s use of larger fines against violators, the AP reported. Those fines have added up to more than $1 million.

“Our work is having an impact and the trend is moving in the right direction,” FAA Administrator Stephen Dickson said in the AP report, “but we need the progress to continue. This remains a serious safety threat.”

The FAA said this week that airlines have reported 4,385 events involving rowdy passengers this year, with 73% of them involving passengers who refuse to wear face masks, which are required on flights by federal rule, according to the AP.

Da Silva said the Hawaiian Airlines incident is still under investigation, but early information indicates the assault was unprovoked and not triggered by noncompliance with the airline’s mask-wearing requirements.

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In his memo, Ingram said he joined President Joe Biden in his call to stop bad behavior aboard flights and toward flight attendants, “who have borne the brunt of this nonsense.”

Email Stephanie Salmons at ssalmons@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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