Shocking footage shows the moment an American Airlines passenger attacked an unsuspecting flight attendant – sneaking up behind him and hitting the employee for being denied a cup of coffee.
The incident happened Wednesday on Flight 377 from San Jose del Cabo to LAX after trying to move to a seat near the first class cabin and saw the passenger being removed from the plane after it had landed in the USA.
Upon arrival at the airport, the suspect – 33-year-old Alexander Tung Cuu Lee from Westminster – was arrested on suspicion of obstructing a flight crew.
If found guilty, Lee, who is said to have threatened the male companion before the attack was filmed, faces up to 20 years in prison.
He is scheduled to appear in court in downtown Los Angeles on Thursday afternoon.
The incident reportedly began after the suspect muttered nonsensically to himself about “murderers” on board the plane bound for California, reportedly whispering, “There are 10 murderers on the plane.”
At that point, a flight attendant reportedly went back to speak to the man and the male attendant who was assaulted joined him to help, passengers said.
Video captured by passenger Barrie Livingstone shows the immediate aftermath of the encounter, with the male flight attendant standing in the aisle in front of the suspect, who is out of sight and out of his seat.
Violence is in the air: A friend was traveling from Cabo to LAX when a passenger hit a flight attendant for not letting him use the first-class toilet. He was later restrained by other passengers and arrested upon touchdown. The video was directed by Barrie Livingstone pic.twitter.com/PntVqWyWs9
– Saad Mohseni (@saadmohseni) September 22, 2022
Shocking footage shows the moment an American Airlines passenger attacked an unsuspecting flight attendant – sneaking up behind him and beating the employee on board a flight from Mexico to Los Angeles
The two appear to be exchanging words in what appears to be a tense encounter. Twice the male attendant asks the disgruntled traveler, “Are you threatening me?”
From the off, the suspect appears to stagger onto the orderly, prompting the staffer to say, “Alright, that’s it,” before turning away from the man.
He then turns and walks to the front of the plane – when Lee suddenly attacks.
Gasps can be heard as the recalcitrant passenger, dressed in an orange Hawaiian shirt, sprints towards the unsuspecting employee from behind in the heartbreaking clip.
The suspect then hits him on the back of the head with a closed fist while turning his back.
‘Oh dear God!’ A passenger can be heard screaming amid the ensuing chaos after the apparently middle-aged suspect lands the sneaky punch. ‘What are you doing?’
Video captured by passenger Barrie Livingstone shows the immediate aftermath of the encounter, with the male flight attendant standing in the aisle in front of the man, who is out of sight and out of his seat
The suspect then hits him on the back of the head with a closed fist while he turns his back, footage shows
Amid the ensuing uproar, the assaulted worker can be seen pulling out a phone, believed to call authorities, while the man, identified as 33-year-old Alexander Tung Cuu Lee of Westminster, retreats before returning to his seat
Amid the ensuing excitement, the assaulted worker can be seen pulling out a phone, presumably to call authorities, while the man backs off, seemingly admiring his handiwork, and returns to his seat.
Another crew member can be seen rushing to get a pair of shackle cuffs.
Coincidentally, a producer from CBS San Diego affiliate KFMB-TV was also on board the plane, and said the passengers helped restrain the suspect as staff tied him with flexible cuffs, a cable-tie-like device used by airlines. passengers tied to his seat.
A separate video shared on social media shows the plane workers taking part in the act, while passengers look on in awe.
The suspect was then escorted off the plane by Los Angeles Airport Police upon landing and has since been detained pending an investigation into the incident, which could result in him being charged with a federal crime.
An American Airlines spokesman said the man has since been given a permanent flight ban from the airline and has been taken into police custody.
Another witness said chaos broke out after the flight attendant asked the man to sit down before her male colleague walked over to help, leading to the heated confrontation.
A separate video shared on social media shows plane workers tying the traveler to his chair after the outbreak, while passengers look on in awe
“Acts of violence against our team members will not be tolerated by American Airlines,” spokesman Derek Walls said in a statement Thursday about the incident.
“The person involved in this incident must never travel with us in the future and we will be working closely with law enforcement in their investigation.”
The Association of Professional Flight Attendants (APFA), a union representing more than 26,000 flight attendants at American Airlines, also publicly responded to the alleged attack.
Lee was subsequently arrested on suspicion of disrupting a flight crew. He will be charged if found responsible for the attack and is due to appear in court on Thursday
In a statement released on Thursday, the organization called the incident “dangerous” and “life-threatening,” adding that it fit into a pattern of similar attacks on airline employees and potentially endangering flight attendants.
The union added that they will do whatever is necessary to ensure the offender is prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
“This violent behavior is endangering the safety of all passengers and crew and must stop,” said Julie Hendrick, national president of the flight attendants’ association.
“APFA fully supports the crew members involved and will do everything possible to ensure that the passenger is prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”
According to the Federal Aviation Administration, airlines have reported nearly 2,000 incidents of unruly passengers this year, compared with nearly 6,000 last year, despite a 38% increase in U.S. air travelers.
Most incidents in 2021 and early 2022 involved passengers refusing to wear face masks, but the federal requirement for masks on airplanes and public transportation was lifted by a federal judge in April.
While the FAA agency hasn’t tracked such reports in previous years, a spokesman said it was safe to assume this year’s numbers are the highest ever.
Since announcing a “zero tolerance policy” on unruly passengers in January, the FAA has released potential fines — some in excess of $30,000 — against dozens of passengers and investigated more than 400 cases.
That’s about triple the average number of cases for the entire year over the past decade, according to FAA figures.
The move was lauded by leaders of the major flight attendant unions who campaigned to create the training programs after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. The terrorists, who hijacked four planes on the day of the attacks, attacked several flight attendants and passengers before storming the plane’s cockpits.
“Because a flight attendant was the first to die, we wanted to make sure we could protect ourselves from physical altercations inside and outside the plane,” said Lyn Montgomery, president of the local union representing Southwest Airlines flight attendants. “Right now it’s really needed, it’s incredibly valuable.”
Sara Nelson, President of the Association of Flight Attendants, who also advocated making the courses mandatory, nevertheless commended the TSA for now reinstating voluntary courses due to the increase in confrontations on flights.
“This should send a message to the public that these events are serious” and that flight attendants are there to “ensure the safety of everyone on the plane,” she said.
The number of recalcitrant incidents involving passengers has meanwhile fallen since face mask regulations on airplanes were dropped in April. Still, the FAA opened nearly 680 investigations into such attacks this year, far more than usual.
The FAA is currently investigating this incident. The suspect is still in custody and has been charged with obstructing flight crew members and flight attendants.