A man was arrested Friday after he urinated near a galley door and threatened flight attendants on a flight from Dallas to Burbank, Calif., authorities said.
It was the latest example of the rise in unruly passenger behavior that has prompted stepped-up enforcement by federal officials and calls from the airline industry to add disruptive fliers to a national no-fly list.
According to the complaint, Friday’s incident began when passenger Samson Hardridge, 33, of Lancaster, Calif., got up during the flight to use the lavatory at the back of the plane. A flight attendant asked him to stand in the aisle because space was tight in the galley.
At that point, according to the complaint, Hardridge had his hands in his pants and asked if the flight attendant wanted to see his genitals. The answer was no. Despite a reminder to stay in the aisle, he “proceeded to the aft galley door of the aircraft and began urinating in the corner of the aircraft,” the complaint said.
Hardridge grew “hostile” when another flight attendant told him he couldn’t relieve himself there and when he was asked to clean up the mess.
The flight attendant “felt as if Hardridge was going to attack” them as he yelled and threatened them, calling them profane names and invading their personal space. According to the complaint, the first flight attendant “feared for their life.”
After learning of the behavior, the pilot diverted the flight to Albuquerque. The criminal complaint, written by FBI Special Agent Stacey Stout, said there is probable cause to believe that Hardridge interfered with flight crew members and attendants, a federal offense. In a statement, Southwest said that local police met the plane at the gate and removed the passenger and that the flight continued to its original destination of Burbank “a short time later.”
The U.S. attorney’s office in New Mexico said Hardridge would stay in custody pending a detention hearing scheduled for Friday morning. He faces a possible sentence of up to 20 years in prison.
His federal public defender, James Loonam, declined to comment.
Several highly publicized cases this month have illustrated the dangerous scenarios flight attendants and passengers are encountering in the air. One passenger on an Orlando-bound Frontier Airlines flight threatened a mother and child who were sitting behind him before he was restrained by crew members and fellow passengers. In two separate incidents, passengers on Delta and American Airlines flights tried to open plane doors in the air — an impossible feat. Suspects in all three cases were arrested.
The Federal Aviation Administration said that as of earlier this week, it had received 607 reports of unruly passengers this year.
Attorney General Merrick Garland told federal prosecutors in November to prioritize investigations into crimes on planes.
“Passengers who assault, intimidate, or threaten violence against flight crews and flight attendants do more than harm those employees; they prevent the performance of critical duties that help ensure safe air travel,” he wrote in a memo. “Similarly, when passengers commit violent acts against other passengers in the close confines of a commercial aircraft, the conduct endangers everyone aboard.”
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