An airline passenger became so hopped up on a flight from London to Los Angeles on Tuesday that the plane had to land in Salt Lake City so he could be arrested.
William Stephen Hayes, 39, of the U.K., allegedly became belligerent and then violent mid-flight, the Salt Lake City Police Department said in a statement Wednesday.
The trouble started at about 4:30 p.m. Mountain Time, police said, when they were notified by airport dispatch that a Virgin Atlantic flight was being diverted to Salt Lake City “due to an unruly passenger.”
The British man had allegedly grabbed the passenger in the seat in front of him by the throat and tried to hit and bite him, The Associated Press reported.
Salt Lake City police and U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents met with the flight crew upon landing and boarded the plane to find Hayes “actively being restrained by passengers and flight staff,” police said.
Witnesses and flight crew told police that Hayes had gotten upset during the flight and become violent “after several attempts by the flight crew to maintain order,” after which crew and passengers restrained him.
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He continued to fight, according to accounts, allegedly assaulting flight crew and one or more passengers, inflicting minor injuries. He also kicked seats and windows, though without causing lasting damage.
“Despite some media reports that Hayes attempted to breach the cockpit, the SLCPD cannot confirm that information,” the police statement said. “The investigation remains ongoing.”
Hayes, who was himself uninjured during the fracas, was charged with assault and interfering with the flight crew, AP said, citing the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Utah. Virgin stood up for its crew.
“The safety and wellbeing of our customers and crew is always our top priority and we don’t tolerate any behavior that compromises this,” Virgin Atlantic said in a statement obtained by CNN. “We always want our customers to have the best experience when they fly with us and our cabin crew are highly trained to deal with any individuals that may impact that experience for others.”
It was not the first flight to be diverted this year due to passenger unrest, which has seen an increase since the coronavirus pandemic was declared in 2020. A survey released this time last year found that 85% of flight attendants had faced at least one unruly passenger in the first six months of 2021.
On Tuesday the Federal Aviation Administration said it has received 1,701 reports of unruly passengers this year alone, initiating 582 investigations and 380 enforcement action cases. The agency recorded 2.4 incidents for every 10,000 flights for the week ending July 17.
With News Wire Services