If an incident occurs in the air, should commercial air passengers join in to help maintain order, or not? This issue has created debate among air safety experts. Although they do not always agree about the best role for passengers, the issue received renewed discussion recently in the wake of an incident that happened on an international flight.
A Commotion in the Air
On Thursday evening, July 6th, a Delta Air Lines flight from Seattle to Beijing took off without incident from Sea-Tac Airport. It carried some 210 passengers and 11 flight attendants. However, some 45 minutes into the flight, a 23-year old passenger from Florida in the first class compartment sought to access an exit without permission. Joseph Daniel Hudek IV reportedly refused to obey a flight attendant’s instructions not to attempt to exit. The flight attendant notified the captain before asking several nearby passengers for assistance in stopping him. Meanwhile, the pilot changed course to return the aircraft to Seattle.
When Mr. Hudek refused to return to his seat, an altercation occurred in the first class compartment. Two flight attendants and several passengers sought to subdue the unruly passenger, who reportedly attempted to pass through the exit door twice. During the brawl, he punched a flight attendant and another passenger and a flight attendant broke a bottle over his head. Passengers eventually succeeded in subduing Mr. Hudek and securing him to a seat with zip ties. They helped monitor him until the flight reached Seattle. He was escorted from the airplane and charged with assaulting a flight attendant.
The incident on the Delta flight prompted comments from several air travel safety experts recently. Capt. Patrick Major, the owner of a flight school, praised the passengers and flight personnel. He did note passengers should not provide assistance without a direct request from airline personnel, however. Intervening independently to stop an altercation without first receiving a flight attendant’s request could aggravate a potentially dangerous situation, he cautioned.
A spokesperson for Delta Air Lines stressed the airline seeks to train its personnel thoroughly in safety procedures. Flight attendants seek assistance from passengers only in the absence of any other alternatives. In the aftermath of the Thursday flight, a flight attendant and a passenger both required medical treatment for injuries stemming from the altercation.