A 22-year-old Ohio man, who allegedly groped the breasts of two flight attendants during a Frontier flight and punched a third, was duct-taped to his seat for the rest of the trip from Philadelphia to Miami.
The flight attendants faced their own consequences, according to the low-cost airline.
“The flight attendants will be, as required in such circumstances, relieved of flying pending completion of an investigation,” Frontier said in a statement.
The Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, which represents Frontier’s flight attendants, decried the decision and supported the crew.
Union president Sara Nelson said the crew “was forced to restrain the passenger with the tools available to them onboard.” According to the union, the airline provides tape to the crew in case they need to restrain a passenger; Frontier did not answer questions about that.
“Management suspended the crew as a knee-jerk reaction to a short video clip that did not show the full incident," Nelson said in the statement. “Management should be supporting the crew at this time not suspending them. We will be fighting this with every contractual and legal tool available, but we would hope there will be no need for that as management comes to their senses and supports the people on the frontline charged with keeping all passengers safe.”
In an updated statement Tuesday afternoon, the airline said the flight attendants’ “paid leave status is in line with an event of this nature pending an investigation.”
“Frontier Airlines maintains the utmost value, respect, concern and support for all of our flight attendants, including those who were assaulted on this flight," the statement said. “We are supporting the needs of these team members and are working with law enforcement to fully support the prosecution of the passenger involved.”
A minute-long video first reported by Miami TV news station WPLG showed Berry cursing at others on the plane with his mask under his chin and talking about the net worth of his parents and grandfather.
“My parents are worth more than … 2 million … dollars,” he said. “You know what, you … suck.”
Around him, fellow passengers laughed and recorded the tirade.
The video, shot from behind, also shows Berry swinging at flight attendant and a member of the crew wrapping duct tape around his body and head.
According to the arrest report, Berry had ordered two alcoholic drinks from a flight attendant and brushed his cup against her “back side inappropriately” while ordering another drink.
“Don’t touch me,” she said, according to the report.
The report said he spilled the new drink on his shirt, went to the lavatory and came out shirtless. The flight attendant helped him get a new shirt from his carry-on, police said, and then Berry walked around for about 15 minutes. At that point, he allegedly groped the breasts of a different flight attendant, who also told him not to touch her.
Then, the report said, he came up behind both women “and put his arms around both of them and groped their breasts again.”
One of the women asked a male flight attendant to watch Berry at that point, the report says. Police said the flight attendant asked Berry to calm down and stay seated, but the passenger punched him in the face.
The flight attendant and passengers restrained Berry and “had to tape him down to the seat and tie him with a seat-belt extender for the remaining flight,” the report said.
This is the second incident in a month in which a passenger has been restrained with duct tape. Last month, a woman was duct-taped to her seat on an American Airlines flight after trying to open an emergency-exit door midflight.
Jeff Price, professor of aviation management at Metropolitan State University of Denver, said in a written message that it was “common to use duct tape to secure a person who represents a threat to the flight or others."
He said some flights have other restraints on board, such as flex cuffs, and said he carries both when he flies “for just such an occasion.”
Restraining a passenger can present a conflict between the need to address a security risk and the ability to evacuate a plane in case of emergency, Price said.
“I really don’t know how you would mitigate a security threat in the air other than to hit the guy in the head really hard, or, more reasonable, use duct tape, rope or flex cuffs,” he said.
He added that there is a risk of suffocation when tape is placed over someone’s mouth. Another video from a different angle shows the lower half of the Berry’s mouth covered as he yells for help before the tape falls. The video also shows a flight attendant wrapping tape around the man’s mouth.
Airlines have reported a spike in disruptive behavior by air travelers this year, with the Federal Aviation Administration receiving 3,715 reports of unruly passengers. The FAA has started 628 investigations and moved forward with 99 cases with penalties.
On Sunday, police responded to an American Eagle flight after passengers got into a fistfight that was captured on video. Police said there were no arrests