An American Airlines flight from New York City to Orange County, California, was diverted to Denver on Wednesday after a passenger allegedly assaulted a flight attendant in what the company's CEO now reportedly is calling "one of the worst displays of unruly behavior we’ve ever witnessed."
ABC News quoted Doug Parker as making the comment Thursday. One witness claimed the flight attendant had "blood splattered on the outside of her mask" after being struck in the face, WABC-TV of New York City reported.
"She was bleeding so they took her to the hospital," another witness told the station.
The suspect was seen in an online photo in handcuffs at the Denver airport. He was wearing a mask even though the dispute aboard the flight was reportedly over the airline's mask rule, WABC reported.
"I understand that he actually punched her twice," Mackenzie Rose, a passenger on the flight, told CBSLA. "I did see her walk back down the aisle afterwards. She had blood splattered on the outside of her mask. If you’re not prepared to wear a mask, you’re not prepared to fly is kind of the moral of the story. That was why she was angered, was because….there was an impression that there might be a substance or alcohol involved. In terms of men hitting women, it’s absolutely absurd and ridiculous."
The airline issued a statement saying it was "outraged" by the report and vowed to permanently ban the suspect from ever patronizing the airline again, FOX 31 of Denver reported.
The Airbus 321 flight was heading from John F. Kennedy airport in New York to John Wayne Airport in Santa Ana when the incident occurred, 1010 WINS radio of New York City reported.
After the plane landed at Denver, the suspect was taken into custody by law enforcement, the station reported.
The incident occurred just as the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) was reporting that unruly behavior had declined slightly over the past week.
The FBI was investigating the incident, the station reported. The flight attendant suffered unspecified injuries, the FOX 31 report said.
Details about exactly what happened, and how seriously the crew member was hurt, were not immediately available.
"We are outraged by the reports of what took place on board," the airline said in a statement. "Acts of violence against our team members will not be tolerated by American Airlines.
"We have engaged local law enforcement and the FBI and we are working with them to ensure they have all the information they need.
"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.
The airline then addressed reports of unruly passenger behavior across the industry.
"This behavior must stop," the airline said, "and aggressive enforcement and prosecution of the law is the best deterrent.
"We thank our crew for their quick action and professionalism to ensure the safety of their fellow team members and customers on board. Our thoughts are with our injured flight attendant and ensuring that she and her fellow crew members have the support they need at this time."