Dec 9, 2021 - Economy

Delta plane diverted mid-flight in latest unruly passenger incident

A Delta airlines aircraft landing from Los Angeles at Kingsford Smith International airport on October 31, 2021 in Sydney, Australia.

Photo: James D. Morgan/Getty Images

A Los Angeles-bound flight from Washington, D.C. was diverted to Oklahoma City after a"combative passenger" assaulted a flight attendant and an air marshal aboard the plane Thursday evening, local police said.

Why it matters: Airlines are dealing with a surge in unruly passengers, with the Federal Aviation Administration confirming over 5,500 cases this year. Most involved mask-related incidents.

  • Video from the scene shows the Delta Airlines passenger suspected in the latest case of in-flight violence was maskless when he was led away by authorities.

Driving the news: Bayne Bunce, 59, who answered a call to assist federal air marshals aboard Delta flight 342 said he saw a man trying to "get at" a flight attendant.

  • Oklahoma City Police Capt. Arthur Gregory told Axios in a phone call that an air marshal attempted to take the suspect into custody after he "assaulted a flight attendant," but he "proceeded to assault the air marshal."
  • The suspect was eventually placed in handcuffs and the pilot diverted the plane to Will Rogers World Airport, where the suspect was escorted off the flight, authorities said.
  • The FAA confirmed the diversion to Axios in an email and said it "investigates every unruly passenger report it receives from the airlines." Gregory said the FBI could also investigate.

Of note: Oklahoma City Police Department spokesperson Gary Knight said in an emailed statement Saturday that a suspect, identified as Ariel Pennington, 35, was "booked into the Oklahoma County Detention Center on complaints of disorderly conduct and public drunkenness."

The big picture: The FAA and the Justice Department established an information-sharing protocol in August to refer unruly passenger cases to the FBI for review.

Go deeper: Delta asks other carriers to share "no-fly" lists of unruly passengers

Editor's note: This article has been updated with details of the suspect.

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