Several flight attendants — six or seven, according to the FBI — were ultimately able to restrain El Dahr using a neck tie, flex cuffs and seat belt extenders.
He was arrested after the flight landed and faces at least one federal charge of interference with flight crew members and attendants. El Dahr, who lives in Puerto Rico, was still in custody there Friday, according to the FBI.
“Additional investigative efforts are being conducted, and we cannot comment on those efforts at this time,” said Limary Cruz-Rubio, an FBI public affairs officer in San Juan.
She added: “The FBI takes any incident on board an aircraft very seriously.”
El Dahr could not be reached for comment; it was not clear whether he has an attorney.
In a statement, JetBlue said only that “a physical altercation occurred on board with a customer who tried to access the flight deck.”
“We applaud the crew members for their response to this challenging situation and for keeping the other customers on board safe,” the statement said, directing questions to the FBI.
Flight 261 left Boston a little after 5 p.m. Wednesday. During the flight, according to the FBI affidavit, El Dahr tried to make a phone call in the air and became angry when it wasn’t successful.
Witnesses told investigators that he later rushed toward the flight deck “yelling to be shot.” One flight attendant said he was yelling in Spanish; another said he yelled in Spanish and Arabic.
A flight attendant at the front of the plane was able to keep El Dahr “corralled” in front of the front row. That’s when a flight crew officer opened the door of the flight deck, the FBI wrote.
“El Dahr observed the door open and then grabbed the JetBlue [flight attendant] by their collar and tie with one hand while using his other hand to grab the overhead compartment to gain leverage to kick,” the affidavit says.
He allegedly kicked the flight attendant in the chest, yelling that the flight crew officer should shoot him. At the same time, the affidavit says, he was still clutching the tie, which tightened and kept the flight attendant from breathing. The flight attendant let go of the passenger, loosened his tie and grabbed El Dahr again to keep him from getting closer to the flight deck. the affidavit says.
They continued to struggle until a number of crew members were able to help. One flight attendant told the FBI that El Dahr managed to break a pair of flex cuffs before being restrained.
The affidavit says the passenger was “restrained to a seat” with the necktie around his ankles, seat belt extenders around his torso and flex cuffs on his wrists. Law enforcement officials met the plane in San Juan.
Wednesday’s ordeal wasn’t even the latest example of the kind of disruptive behavior that has troubled airlines and federal agencies this year.
Thursday morning, deputy sheriffs escorted an unruly passenger off a Hawaiian Airlines plane in Honolulu and charged the 32-year-old man with third-degree assault, Toni Schwartz, spokeswoman for the Hawaii Department of Public Safety, said in an email. Schwartz said the case was turned over to federal authorities.
Taylor Garland, spokeswoman for the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, said the passenger punched the flight attendant in the chest as he was picking up trash during a short inter-island flight, then stood up and tried to take another swing.
“We’re not aware of any particular issue that was escalating,” Garland said. “It seemingly came out of nowhere.”
She pointed out that the incident happened an hour or two after the end of a hearing before a U.S. House of Representatives subcommittee on the issue of bad behavior in the skies. On Thursday, the Federal Aviation Administration said that the rate of unruly passenger incidents had dropped from the beginning of the year, but “remains too high.”
“This is an issue that’s been pervasive for the last nine months,” Garland said. “This incident yesterday is just further evidence that there’s still work to be done.”