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L.A. man charged with trying to open plane door in midair

▶ Watch Video: Airline employees testify on spike in unruly passengers

A Los Angeles man is being charged with interference with flight crew members and attendants after he allegedly caused a disturbance midair, causing a Washington, D.C.-bound flight from Los Angeles to land in Kansas City on Sunday. 

The man, Juan Rivas, was subdued by both passengers and crew members, including a flight attendant who stopped him from opening the passenger door by hitting him in the head with a coffee pot, according to the affidavit. The Transportation Safety Administration told CBS News there were no air marshals on board, and the suspect was restrained by two passengers and two off-duty police officers. 

The charge, a felony, carries a sentence of up to 20 years in prison if convicted.

The affidavit includes eyewitness accounts from several passengers and flight attendants who subdued Rivas. One flight attendant told investigators that Rivas first approached the front of the plane to tell a flight attendant that “people were attempting to hurt him and they followed him onto the plane.” He said one of those people was sitting in his row, so flight attendants allowed him to switch to a different seat, the affidavit said. 

Rivas approached the cockpit again soon after and told the flight attendants that the plane was not actually flying, the flight attendant said. When an attendant used a service cart to put distance between herself and Rivas, he allegedly grabbed plastic cutlery and shoved it up his sleeve, holding it “like a shank.” He then allegedly grabbed a champagne bottle and tried to break it on the counter. 

Another flight attendant said they heard Rivas say “we’re going to bring down this plane,” so the flight attendant returned to the rear of the plane, turned on aircraft lights and grabbed a coffee pot.

Rivas next tried to open the passenger door to the plane, ignoring commands to stop, multiple flight attendants said. One passenger said in the affidavit that he was pulling so hard that the door moved 2 to 3 inches away from the frame. 

One of the flight attendants then struck him multiple times with the coffee pot before passengers stepped in to subdue him, the affidavit said. Once Rivas was on the ground, passengers said they taped his legs and used zip ties from the flight attendants to restrain him. 

Another passenger, who is a police officer, said he punched Rivas and helped restrain him with handcuffs and duct tape.

NEW YORK – AUGUST 24 : A Boeing 737-A23 operated by American Airlines takes off from JFK Airport on August 24, 2019 in the Queens borough of New York City. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Flight attendants told investigators they did not see Rivas consume any alcohol during the flight. 

The FBI on Sunday confirmed an incident occurred on board the plane. The flight attendants’ union, the Association of Professional Flight Attendants, tweeted Sunday that “this violent behavior must stop.”

Airlines have reported an increase in disruptive passenger behavior since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic. Last year, the FAA received more than 5,500 reports of unruly behavior. Nearly 400 more incidents have been reported so far in 2022, according to the administration.

To cope, airlines have added passengers their own, internal ban lists and Delta Airlines has called for the companies to share those individual lists, different from the federal no-fly list. And the Transportation Security Administration and the FAA have warned that disruptive passengers could lose TSA pre-check privileges

The FAA initiated investigations into nearly 1,100 incidents last year, and another 93 this year. The agency has requested more than $160,000 in civil fines against disruptive passengers.    

Allison Gualtieri contributed to this report.



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