Alexander Tung Cuu Le, 33, of Westminster, southern California, was arrested when the plane landed at Los Angeles International Airport, an American Airlines official said. He was charged on Thursday with one count of interference with crew members and attendants, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, a statement from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California said.
According to the statement, Le grabbed a flight attendant’s shoulder and asked for coffee about 20 minutes after the plane took off. He also allegedly disturbed passengers by hanging out near the first class section of the cabin.
When another flight attendant told Le to return to his assigned seat, Le “would have stood up and taken a fighting stance towards the flight attendant, clenching his fists with both hands, which the officer board interpreted it as a threat,” according to the DOJ statement.
Video taken by fellow passenger, Barrie Livingstone, shows Le apparently initially swinging his arm at the flight attendant but missing. As the attendant turned to walk away, Le can be seen rushing to hit the attendant in the head, prompting cries of concern and outrage on the plane. The attack was “seen by multiple passengers,” the Justice Department said.
Le then “fleed” to the back of the plane, where he was “apprehended by several passengers” and crew, the statement added.
“Le’s hands and legs were cuffed,” but he “continually unbuckled his seatbelt, causing flight attendants to restrain him in the seat with seatbelt extenders,” officials noted.
Le was barred from all future American Airlines flights.
“Acts of violence against our crew members are not tolerated by American Airlines,” a statement from American Airlines said. “The person involved in this incident will never be permitted to travel with us in the future, and we will be working closely with law enforcement in their investigation.”
The airline thanked crew members and passengers for holding Le until the plane was met by law enforcement at LAX.
Le appeared in U.S. District Court in Downtown Los Angeles on Thursday, where he was charged.
The hearing continued until Monday, Ciaran McEvoy, a spokesperson for the US Attorney’s office, told SFGate. “It will be a detention hearing to determine his bond, if any. Mr. Le has not pleaded for anything yet,” McEvoy added.
Attacks on flight attendants have skyrocketed over the past two years, largely sparked by sometimes violent and defiant responses to demands to wear masks earlier in the COVID-19 pandemic. The Federal Aviation Administration recorded an incredible 5,981 “unruly passenger reports last year. In 2020, the FAA only investigated 183 reports.