It’s been a rough time lately for bad passenger behavior. And if other stories recently haven’t prompted rank and file airline passengers to demand that something more effective be done, perhaps this story will spur action.
Early Saturday morning, an American passenger aboard a KLM flight from Abu Dhabi to Amsterdam reportedly “started screaming and hitting wildly around him,” according to a member of the cabin crew, to the point that the Dutch Air Force sent a pair of F-16 fighter jets armed with air-to-air missiles to intercept the plane.
Cabin crew said the overnight flight wasn’t crowded, and that the American passenger did not appear to be intoxicated, but that he first attracted attention when he began walking around the cabin while most other passenger were asleep.
Flight attendants asked him to sit down, but he became “aggressive” and reacted “very threateningly from one moment to the next,” a flight attendant said.
Punches were apparently thrown, and several other passengers were “lightly wounded” during the fracas, according to Dutch authorities, including two who “were given black eyes.”
Military police arrested the American passenger once the plane landed at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol.
“A 29-year-old American man became aggressive after being asked by a purser to return to his seat,” Joanna Helmonds, a police spokesperson, said afterward. “A scuffle broke out and the cabin crew, together with other passengers managed to restrain the man.”
The Dutch police didn’t name the passenger, and said he “came across as disoriented,” and was being held in a Dutch psychiatric institution for observation.
Of course, there’s a happy ending to the story in that the plane landed safely in Amsterdam–on time, no less.
Still, it’s easy to imagine how a simple miscommunication or human error could have led to a much more tragic situation. And it comes after we’ve reported story after story about disruptive passengers on domestic flights who allegedly got drunk, became aggressive, and caused their flights to be diverted:
- A Southwest passenger who pleaded guilty to charges after threatening to “put [a flight attendant] in a body bag” after being denied a fourth drink;
- An American Airlines passenger who allegedly got drunk, tried to do pull-ups on the overhead compartment of a crowded plane at 30,000 feet, and became “verbally abusive;” and
- A Delta Air Lines passenger who allegedly head-butted a flight attendant, again for not being willing to give him more alcohol.
So what’s the solution? Obviously, problem drinking is a big part of many of these situations. And the new FAA law that President Trump just signed does contain tougher penalties for interfering with flight crew on U.S. flights.
But flight attendants are in a tough position: they’re first line safety officers, but they’re also there for passenger comfort. Yes, they serve drinks on most flights, but it’s asking a lot for them also to act as bouncers, or cops.
Personally, I’m old enough to remember what flying was like for a year or two after the September 11, 2001 terror attacks–when, at least in my personal experience, passengers were more likely to keep an eye on each other, and when it seemed like peer pressure likely stopped some people from acting aggressively on airplanes.
Regardless, at 40,000 feet, we’re all in this together. And if I were one of the innocent souls aboard an aircraft where a violent fellow passenger caused enough of a disturbance to result in armed fighter jets intercepting me, I don’t think I’d be taking this lightly.