A Southwest Airlines employee was taken to a hospital after a passenger assaulted her during the boarding process at Dallas Love Field Airport on Saturday, airline officials said.

According to the Dallas Police Department, 32-year-old Arielle Jean Jackson boarded the New York-bound flight about 12:40 p.m. and soon after began a “verbal altercation” with a flight attendant at the back of the plane.

The flight attendant asked Jackson to exit the plane, and as she was leaving, she struck an airline operations agent with a closed fist on the head, police said. Officers took Jackson into custody and charged her with aggravated assault, Juan Fernandez, a Dallas police spokesman, said Sunday.

It was unclear whether Jackson had retained a defense lawyer.

The operations agent was taken to a hospital, where she was in stable condition and recovering from multiple injuries, Chris Mainz, a Southwest spokesperson, said Sunday in a statement to The Washington Post.

“Southwest Airlines maintains a zero-tolerance policy regarding any type of harassment or assault and fully supports our Employee as we cooperate with local authorities regarding this unacceptable incident,” the statement said.

During the pandemic, there has been a sharp increase in disruptive or violent incidents onboard planes — many involving hostile passengers protesting mask mandates, prompting airlines and government agencies to institute harsher policies including higher fines and reporting the most serious cases to the FBI for potential prosecution.

Flight attendants and crew members around the country are training in self-defense with federal air marshals. (Monica Rodman/The Washington Post)

The Federal Aviation Administration reported 5,114 incidents of unruly passengers across all airlines as of November this year, 3,710 of which were related to mask-wearing. From the total number of incidents, the FAA initiated 973 investigations, a sixfold increase from last year. One hundred of the reports involved physical assault.

The spike in disturbances that began at the end of last year as travel resumed to pre-pandemic levels led the FAA to initiate a “zero tolerance policy” against passengers disrupting flights with threatening and, in many cases, violent behavior.

Before the policy that began in January, unruly passengers could receive a warning for their misconduct. They could also be hit with a civil penalty of up to $25,000 per incident. Now, all incidents are subject to a fine of up to $37,000 for each federal violation.

Last week, the FAA announced $225,287 in civil penalties against 10 airline passengers for alleged unruly behavior, including onboard three Southwest flights.

One of the incidents involved a man on a flight in May from New York City to Chicago who refused to remain seated during descent and instead left his seat and tried to enter the cockpit. To ensure he remained seated during landing, flight attendants sat him on the floor at the back of the plane and tried to hold him down, but the man began punching one of them.

The man was arrested at the arrival gate and fined $26,787, according to an FAA news release.

This month, the FAA announced it had referred more than three dozen unruly passengers to the FBI for potential criminal prosecution in hopes of curbing the uptick in violent behavior on planes this year.

“Let this serve both as a warning and a deterrent: If you disrupt a flight, you risk not just fines from the FAA but federal criminal prosecution as well,” FAA Administrator Stephen Dickson said in a news release.

The Post spoke to experts who broke down the psychology behind coronavirus-related outbursts and how to act when confronted by one. (Sarah Parnass, John Farrell/The Washington Post)

Given the growing number of cases that involve physical assault, flight attendant associations have repeatedly urged federal authorities, airlines and airports to ramp up efforts to hold disruptive passengers accountable and to create a centralized list of violators who would be denied permission to fly on all airlines.

Currently, there is no such list, but individual companies have the right to keep internal lists of people banned from boarding their planes.

“If a passenger physically assaults crewmembers or other passengers on one airline, they pose a risk to passengers and crew at every airline. They should be banned from flying on all airlines. Period,” Sara Nelson, president of AFA-CWA International, said in a recent statement.

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