Hawaii Air Rage Was Inevitable. Then It Happened. So What’s Ahead?

Unfortunately, it wasn’t entirely unexpected that a Hawaiian Airlines flight attendant was punched twice in an unprovoked incident on Thursday. Continue on for a chilling video on this issue.

As you know, a Hilo-bound Hawaiian Airlines flight was forced to return to Honolulu yesterday after a passenger allegedly punched a flight attendant twice in an “unprovoked incident.”

The widely reported assault, amid a nationwide uptick in attacks on airline employees, prompted widespread condemnation from the industry and government. A federal investigation is pending.

Sheriffs arrested a 32-year-old Hawaii Island resident for third-degree assault. He was then transferred to the Federal Detention Center in Honolulu, where he remains in FBI custody. He had no prior criminal record.

Two incidents yesterday. The first on HA 152.

According to Hawaiian Airlines, Flight 152 departed Honolulu at about 730 am. Soon after takeoff, the passenger “assaulted one of our flight attendants, who was walking down the aisle, in an unprovoked incident” in an issue “not triggered by non-compliance with mask wearing policies. The flight attendant was shaken up but is doing well.”

A spokesperson for the flight attendants’ union said that the flight attendant, a man, was beaten twice as he walked through the cabin picking up trash. Others have reported that it was during the service component of the flight, not trash pickup, that the problem arose. The flight attendants’ union representative confirmed that “there was no escalating incident. Suddenly, from their seat (they) punched a flight attendant in the chest and then swung again at the flight attendant. There’s no clear reason why.”

Yesterday’s second incident was on HA 22.

Flight 22 departed just after 1 pm, bound for Seattle. Hawaii DOT confirmed a disturbance that resulted in the plane turning back to Honolulu, where it landed about four hours later.

At about two hours into the flight, the passenger, according to Hawaiian Airlines, refused to comply with the federal mask mandate. Flight attendants, together with a pilot who was not actively working the flight, were able to get the situation under control. The captain nonetheless decided to return to Honolulu, where the passenger was taken into custody. As you know, any issue, whether medical, mechanical or otherwise, over the open ocean is of tremendous concern. Typically flights will divert to the nearest location, which, since it occurred only two hours into the flight, would still have been Hawaii.

Hawaiian Airlines also said they have either denied boarding to or banned nearly 100 passengers so far this year. We don’t know the details of how many of the issues arose en route vs. those passengers who were not permitted to board flights.

The flight attendants’ union representative said, “We still have incidents where people are just wearing their face mask below their nose or improperly until a flight attendant walks by, and that aggravates the other passengers, and it causes a difficult situation. So it’s been difficult through this pandemic, and things have certainly peaked because of it.”

The worst time ever for airline employees now includes those based in Hawaii.

The union also said that this had been the worst year to date in terms of unruly passengers. It is a hard enough job under normal conditions. Now, however, people’s nerves seem to be on edge constantly. Flight attendants report being understandably “anxious, fearful.”

Problems exacerbated by alcohol.

Unruly passenger incidents are in many cases exacerbated by alcohol, which has led airlines to begin banning alcoholic beverages. Southwest and American have both banned alcohol sales at least into 2022. We do expect others to follow. The sale of alcoholic beverages at airports is also under scrutiny.

The flight attendant rep also said, “Most people expect that we’re just serving beverages or taking care of the comfort, but really we’re there as safety professionals, and that’s the most important thing to know or recognize about flight attendants. We all have to coexist in this tiny tube up in the sky, but our hope is that we can continue to bring our passengers back and forth safely.”

JetBlue incident also occurred Thursday.

On Thursday, there was also an incident aboard a JetBlue flight from Boston to San Juan. At the conclusion, a passenger had to be restrained in a seat using seatbelt extenders following a mid-air problem. According to the FBI, the passenger, Khalil El Dahr, tried to make a phone call towards the end of the flight and “became angry about the call’s unsuccess. After that, he rushed towards the cockpit screaming in Spanish and Arabic, saying that someone should shoot him.

The passenger fought with a flight attendant who tried to stop him, punched and kicked him in the chest, and even strangled him using a necktie. JetBlue needed a team of “six or seven” crew to restrain the passenger, first using plastic zip-tie handcuffs. When those failed, the crew used a set of four seatbelt extenders instead. The passenger was arrested on arrival in San Juan.

Flight attendants union to the forefront of issues.

The Association of Flight Attendants-CWA is asking that the government, airlines, and airports come together to reduce these incidents. They said that airlines this year have reported nearly 5,000 unruly passenger issues. The majority are mask-related. And countless others have not been reported.

Flight attendants could go the way of Hawaii restaurant employees.

At a congressional hearing this week, one flight attendant for American Airlines reported he had lost count of how many times he had been threatened or insulted after returning to work following COVID. Flight attendants were not employed or trained to be police or face the imminent dangers of air rage. AA’s Teddy Andrews told the committee that flight attendants are well trained for medical emergencies, evacuations, and security threats but not this “imminent danger… These days I come to work anticipating disruptive behavior. Our colleagues are anxious, fearful. What is going to happen on the next flight? How will this passenger react if I remind them to wear their mask? Will complying with airline policies set them off? Can I avoid engaging, or would that be an evasion of my duties?”

We are left wondering if some airline flight attendants will decide that this isn’t what they signed on for, and leave the industry.

What’s on the table next to curb disruptive passenger behavior.

  1. A ban on packaged alcohol sales at airports.
  2. Sharing between airlines of no-fly lists so banned passengers can’t’ disrupt flights on other airlines.
  3. More federal criminal prosecution of severe cases.

Chilling FAA video on passenger air rage.

However, the Federal Aviation Administration did have a glimmer of good news this week when it noted the rate of incidents being reported has fallen by half compared with earlier this year. The FAA said that part of that is due to the new public service campaign that includes the video above.

Airlines are fed up.

Southwest’s new president said this week, “we’ve had a flight attendant that was punched. Nobody deserves to come to work and have that happen to them, so we’re not going to tolerate that.” Delta Airlines has 1,600 people on its no-fly list, while United has 700. Delta has already indicated it wants to share its list with other airlines. Delta said, “a list of banned customers doesn’t work as well if that customer can fly with another airline.”


64 thoughts on “Hawaii Air Rage Was Inevitable. Then It Happened. So What’s Ahead?”

  1. An attorney should figure out how to represent airlines ,and injured parties(passengers) who lost money, vacation time and, or business opportunities due to a violators actions on an aircraft. Maybe a few class action suits, in addition to the criminal charges would help deter these events

    1. Hello LOPAKA15,

      Interesting you wish to see the lawsuits fly (no pun). I thought about that also.

      Generally, the problem in these type situations is that with a civil judgement you wind up with a 2001 Volvo with 200,000 miles and, if they are really prosperous, a 30 year old house needing $50,000+ of repairs to meet minimum standards to market it. There are more judgement proof passengers than one might imagine, including those up front in the big seats.

      Hit them with felony charges? Take a flight disruption and a bruise or two to a jury in Chicago where 60 people a weekend are shot or worse and I don’t think the jury pool is necessarily going to be too very impressed. The appearance of heavy-handed prosecution can be problematic.

      The above aside, I agree these type occurrences are unacceptable and must be dealt with in a serious manner. Given that I think a bit of this is a back-blast from COVID restrictions, I just think lawsuits aren’t quite the best answer. I tend to believe the longer-term solution may well lie with a COVID control effort that is a little more carrot and somewhat less stick.

  2. If you have noticed airline employees are ruder than ever and falling well below previous customer service levels. Their unions whine about customers talking speaking out after receiving poor service. There is still free speech in this country and airline employees should not expect silence from customers they mistreat. Other jobs like teachers, law enforcement officers and firefighters endure verbal abuse and even Real confrontations everyday, but it seems no one is concerned with that. Maybe the airlines should start with being polite to their customers and stop treating them like brianless cattle. That might just correct the issue. Airlines might consider “do not employ list” rather than “no fly list” as a solution.

    1. Maybe if people would stop acting like idiots, sit down, and shut up maybe the flight crew would be less rude.

  3. I get so angry when I hear these stories. People need to follow the rules, comply or stay home. Those of us law abiding and respectful people have a right to enjoy our flights and not worry. I’m glad they are banning alcohol and all airlines should share no fly lists and these lists need to be in place indefinitely.
    I give the flight attendants a lot of credit. They aren’t paid enough to deal with idiots.
    I think jail time and very large fines should also be a part of the charges against these violent people.

  4. I believe these numbers would be higher or would reflect issues that did not escalate because passengers (like myself) and flight attendants don’t like confrontation. On a recent rt to Hawaii the family across from me were wearing see-through masks which, based on scientific study, serve no purpose other than for the wearer to claim that they were masked. I don’t believe they should have been allowed to board. I said nothing. On the return trip the gentleman to my left wore his mask below his nose the entire flight. Early on I gently pointed out that his mask had slipped and he adjusted it. That didn’t last. The nose was exposed the entire flight . Not wanting to cause an incident, I’ll accept criticism for this), and being fully vaccinated. I did nothing. I am certain there have been many similar cases where the potential for some form of air-rage was averted.

  5. Unruly passengers are certainly an issue, however, there are some flight attendants that should go back to customer service school. When we fly we follow all the rules even checking the placard when the flight crew addresses it on pre flight instruction. Last flight from Hawaii there was a young man, flight attendant, that was very rude prior to take off. So rude that the other female flight attendants told him to leave and they would take care of the situation. Perhaps the airlines should look into retraining their flight attendants how to diffuse a situation instead of starting it.

  6. I can tell you why many of these incidents are occurring – lack of respect for people and authority. As a child I was taught, by my parents, to respect people and authority and I followed these rules for over 70 years. As a child I was taught to call my elders and people in authority as Mister or Misses and to say yes sir or no sir, yes ma’am or no ma’am. Younger people have not been taught this these days and now we have these incidents.
    So if you want these incident to stop, start teaching respect for authority and people.

    1. As an “elder” if I act disrespectfully I don’t expect others to disregard abhorrent behavior because I’ve managed not to die in 7 decades. Growing old may entitle one to expect some courtesies to lighten our load, but respect is based on actions and character, not longevity.

      1. But nothing gives you the right to act like tbat towards other people. If we did half what these young kids do now we would have gotten beat.

  7. Aloha,
    My husband and I went to Maui on the beginning on September. So wonderful! We flew on Hawaiian air. I finished my free meal and I was watching a movie, I forgot all about putting my mask back. A flight attendant very politely reminded me. I apologized and put it back on. The flight attendants are wonderful. We love Hawaiian Airlines, they have wonderful service.

  8. Completely beyond me why alcohol is still being served on aircraft with all these issues. Its almost as if they are going to need to do breathalyzers before people board. Geesh. Smarten up people. Stop the booze, before someone dies.

  9. Undoubtedly an unfortunate event. One of many it seems these days.

    Some of it may be alcohol, some social adjustment issues, and some mental disorders. Those have been with air travel since the Wright Brothers.

    But I think the relatively quick increase in such things as reported herein is largely tied to increasing frustrations with COVID and the widely disparate interpretations of the benefits of restrictive policies imposed as a result. These outburst are the highly visible sparkles of something bubbling up in men and women who increasingly have simply had enough of the “COVID Commandos” and the whipsaw of on-again off-again policies that appear to be accomplishing very little. Every animal has a limit when pressed and confused – some before others – and these are some of the first to turn and bite.

    I do not suggest they are correct nor justified in what they do. They are not.

    I do suggest, however, we have certainly not witnessed the last nor the worst of it.

    1. When you mention “Covid-commandos,” I assume you are referring to those insisting you follow Covid safety guidelines at all times and are sufficiently community minded and confident to remind those who are annoyed at the necessary actions, masking, social distancing. etc., to follow the safety guidelines meant in a large part to protect other people than you. I think you should consider another description of those willing to invite vitriol from those who have chosen to endanger others and thus delay the full opening if our economy that, remembering that Wall Street is not the economy, cannot efficiently function with well over 100,000,000 Americans refusing the same philosophical little jab that ended polio, smallpox the measles and many other diseases. These are the patriotic Americans trying to help their country recover from a horrendous disease that you label Covid commandos.

      1. Hello Tony,

        Thank you for the reply.

        I use the term “COVID commandos” in the sense that more than a few in our society are going out of their normal behavioral envelope to attempt to impose upon others that which the others find without firm basis. I actually think the others are in good find with finding little firm basis. This is due to (1) conflicting information, (2) the failures in obtaining substantial progress retarding the spread of the virus, and (3)the quick and vicious stigmatization of those in non-conformity, whatever their reason.

        We are 18 months into the 15 day flatten the curve. Wear mask – don’t need mask – wear 2 mask. Six feet apart – no six feet apart. Everything back to normal by July 4 – except it isn’t. Vaccines prevent COVID (Presidential announcement) – vaccines last 1 year – then 8 months – then 6 months – now 5 months. Some boosters – not all get boosters. CDC Director overrides advisory panel. Get the vaccine or lose your employment. Mask for you- but not for them.

        What to believe? What is true? And why?

        Most important of all, who is to say?

    2. I have never seen so much anger displayed due to simple rules such as keeping a mask up over your nose. Its a health issue. Just follow the rules. You are Not entitled to any special treatment in the air. I think the airlines need to crack down and hard. No fly lists should all be shared. One incident and your banned at least for a year. There also needs to be heavy fines and jail time

  10. Here’s an idea, stop the mask mandates and you stop the anxiety. There are no peer reviewed published studies that show masks work, in fact just the opposite. I painted a room with a paint sprayer a few months ago, and guess what, I had paint on the inside and outside of the mask. 3 guess how that happened?!? Masks don’t prevent viruses. My dad wore a mask whenever he went out and he still got covid and died in June. People need to wake up.

    1. Masks are not fool proof, but reduce the odds of contracting and spreading disease.

      1. Surgical masks are to prevent the spread of GERMS-bacteria (remember those things?) that can enter and cause bacterial infections in the patient’s body interior when they are exposed without skin protecting them. The whole idea is to create and maintain sterile environment. They are not being worn to prevent viral spread – which at least in the case of COVID is respiratory. Maybe they also cut down a bit in the amount of viral particles that the personnel breathe out.

        If I had to be cut open and operated on, I would want that to take place in a sterile environment, which includes those surgical masks on the attending personnel. I would be foolish to think that those masks will protect me from catching COVID from those same personnel.

        I don’t know about you, but most face covers I see out there in public are not surgical masks, N-95, etc. They are pieces of cotton cloth fabric with people breathing in and about all sides and especially the tops of them. This describes mine, too. I doubt they do much COVID filtering; maybe sneeze-coughs are at least redirected out the sides, for what that’s worth.

    2. There are more than a dozen peer-reviewed published studies showing that mask wearing reduces SARS-CoV-2 infection risk. So far as I know there are two randomized clinical trials, only one of which is currently peer reviewed and published. The Danish study showed a non-significant 18% relative risk reduction and the Yale/Bangladesh study showed a significant 9% risk reduction in symptomatic infection with surgical but not cloth masks.

      1. Is the “risk reduction” to the person wearing it or to others that the person is around?

        I vaguely recall being lectured by a government bureaucrat way back when that masks don’t protect the wearer, but instead “protect” people around the wearer. Did that narrative change when I wasn’t paying attention?

        How the heck are 18% or 9% calculated? And I would think a true study/trial would require a non-mask-wearing control group exposed to the same amount of virus and in the same environment as mask-wearers and in statistically relevant numbers. Is that what happened in these studies/trials you refer to?

    3. Im very sorry for your loss.

      Yes, a big befuddled mystery surrounding masks,and everything else.
      If we are respectful of others,these things do not hapoen.
      Simple golden rule.

    4. Aloha! Another idea is that people who choose not to follow the rules of an airline, or any company, should stay home or frequent establishments that don’t care about their fellow man.
      To live in a polite society there have always been rules so we can live in harmony.

    5. here is an idea. Follow the rules or stay off planes. I wear a mask 8-10 hours 5 days a week and its never caused me one issue.

      1. So, because you have no issue, PaulC, that means what exactly? Right, absolutely nothing…since everyone is different, and there are people with health conditions that don’t allow them to wear a mask at all, let alone 8-10 hours a day, or in the hot and humid conditions that persist outdoors in Hawaii. 🤷‍♂️

        1. And there are exemptions available for all those. Never said there wasn’t. I know several who cannot get vaccinated. Not sure of hat point your trying to make

  11. This is ridiculous. There should be an international registry of all airlines of passengers who have been barred from flying on an airline. They are a danger to everyone on a plane. And they should be banned, for life. Period

  12. The flight crews should never have to deal with the mask issues. Unfortunately, all those in DC who mandate mask wearing, refuse to follow their own rules. We see the rich and famous, politicians, all of them, party maskless. Governors going to weddings, rock concerts, restaurants and sending kids to private schools w/no mask policies while lying about it, ( to us here in California), There is no excuse for misbehavior on flights, but Americans are fed up with the hypocrisy and frankly, questionable science surrounding masks.

  13. Aloha, I have been wondering why it has taken so long for the airline industry to get together and ban anyone from flying with this type of behavior on any airline. If it’s a medical issues that determination can change the end result, that’s my thought anyway.
    Thank you

  14. I haven’t flown really since these incidents have begun. It is unacceptable and inexcusable behavior. Fines should be increased and enforced. Disruptors should be on no fly lists that airlines should share. I think tolerance should be given to young children (under age 10????), because they do cry and will fuss on such a long flight. I’ve read stories where parents were escorted off the plane because of two year olds having trouble masking.

    All airports, especially at the gates should have warnings in bold signage that disruptive behavior will result in removal from the plane (with no reimbursement), fines and if really bad (assault is never acceptable) jail time.

    1. It’s still a pandemic, COVID is spear by droplets; children should be required to wear masks. If they can’t then they shouldn’t be flying.

    2. The pilot of our SWA flight read everyone the riot act over a loudspeaker before we boarded this past Wednesday 23rd. That was LIH airport around 2:00 pm, the same day as the two HA incidents. Probably not a coincidence!

      Our flight was nearly empty and very quiet. The flight attendants mostly sat in their seats and read stuff from what I observed. There’s very little in flight service, so they had nothing much to do to occupy their time on a 4+ hour flight.

      I can’t speak for all, but it’s very uncomfortable for me (and I am not alone) to wear a mask for many hours in a row. Except when flying, I normally only have to wear one for a few minutes at a time, maybe once or twice a day (e.g., walking in and out of a restaurant or store visits. People like me (I am not alone) figure out how to sip or nibble on something off and on throughout the flight to make it more bearable. I bring a bag of pistachios, and can nurse a can of soda at least two hours. I was never nagged/scolded by any flight attendant who happened by when I did not have it on. There were several rows of empty seats around us, FWIW.

      No matter how pointless you may believe the rule to be, there is no reason/justification to get nasty at flight attendants, or restaurant workers, or anyone else stuck being the mask Karen. They don’t make the rules, and most of them do not enjoy being mask/vaccine enforcers. IMO, people behaving poorly, rudely and violently is a sign of our times.

  15. If you disrupt the safety of all the other passengers and crew, and there is typically plenty of video evidence, it shouldn’t be a slap on the wrist. Absolutely share the no-fly lists, or put them on a national registry. That should have been automatic. 10 years without so much as a parking ticket before you can apply to be taken off the list. I don’t know what the current penalties are, but they should start at $50k AND 5 years. There should be zero tolerance. And bite the concessionaire’s complaint bullet and halt alcohol sales in the airport and on planes. They are the ones apparently overserving. For those that drink responsibly, yes, they are being punished for other’s bad behavior, but the safety of the rest of us shouldn’t be less important than someone’s mai tai.

    And the next time you fly somewhere, anywhere, thank the flight attendants for keeping you safe. And the gate agents, and the sky caps, and the people at the check-in counter for making your trip possible. I’d bet my own money they don’t get the thanks and appreciation they deserve.

  16. Mahalo Jeff and Rob! I want to apologize to all airline service providers for all they’re going through to help us all get where we’re going.
    I cannot imagine how terrifying that would be.
    Whatever the reason this guy did what he did, he should be grounded for TWO LIFETIMES!!
    I’m so sick of people abusing others.
    I have a couple of suggestions.
    #1 Compact cattle prod
    #2 Duct tape

    Just sayin.
    As a person who actually had to grab onto an electric fence to make sure it was working, the cattle prod works the same way.
    After applying #1, carefully wrap with #2.
    Repeat as necessary.

    Aloha Beat of Hawaii, until we meet again. Stay safe.

    1. Hi Pam.

      Good to have you here again, and hope to see you again soon. Until then, our best regards.


  17. I like the idea of a national “NO fly” list. Just hope it works better than the national
    “do not call list”.

  18. Absolutely the violence on airplanes IA affecting service. I have flown to/from/ and between the Hawaiian Islands several times in the last two months. Flight attendants are making as few trips down the plane as possible.
    I got 1 cup of coffee during a 5 hour flight.
    I do think things might be a bit smoother if the crew didn’t announce 3 times that we should reposition the mask between “bites and sips”.
    That is no excuse for the terrible behavior of bad passengers.
    I think sharing banned passengers lists is a good idea. We don’t need these brutes on our flights. No alcohol also curbs stupid behavior. Finally arrest more of these criminals.. Perp walk them through the airport and publically imbarras them as much as possible before jailing and fining them heavily. Maybe delayed passengers can sue these offenders for lost time. Money and endangerment..
    Then maybe the crew can provide the service they are trained to give to the 99.9% of passengers who know how to behave civilly.

  19. I really hope these violent people will be placed on a National no fly list. They need to learn how to behave and live in a polite society.


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