by Gregory Wallace | CNN
Frontier Airlines now says it “supports” and will pay the flight attendant’s crew, which was previously said to have been suspended after a passenger was stopped from groping and punching.
The airline initially told CNN that the crew members “will be released from flight until an investigation is completed, if necessary in such circumstances.”
But the union representing its flight attendants criticized the airline’s “knee-jerk reaction to a short video clip that did not show the full incident,” with the airline voicing support for its crew.
“Frontier Airlines maintains the utmost value, respect, concern and support for all of our flight attendants, including those who attacked this flight,” spokeswoman Jennifer de la Cruz said in a statement. “We are supporting the needs of these team members and working with law enforcement to fully support the prosecution of the passenger involved.”
The incident of a weekend flight from Philadelphia to Miami comes as flight attendants across the country are battling a surge in unruly and even violent passenger numbers.
The Federal Aviation Administration said Tuesday that it received 100 reports of unruly passengers in the past week, bringing this year’s total to 3,715 — far more than anything seen before.
What happened in the cabin?
According to a report from the Miami-Dade Police Department, the passenger had consumed two drinks, spilled a third on himself, was walking around the cabin without shirts and groping the breasts of two female flight attendants. The police report has identified him as Maxwell Wilkinson Berry of Norwalk, Ohio. Phone calls by CNN to the numbers listed for Berry on Tuesday did not go unanswered.
The Frontier passenger allegedly touched the breasts of 2 flight attendants, then shouted that her parents were worth $2 million, before punching a flight attendant. Frontier suspended the crew for duct-taping the passenger to his seat as soon as he landed in Miami. Max Berry, 22, is in custody. pic.twitter.com/4xS9Rwvafx
— Sam Sweeney (@sweeneyabc) 3 August 2021
“You guys f*ck suck!” In a video clip shared with CNN-linked WPLG, Berry can be heard screaming. “My parents are worth over two million god d*mn dollars!”
According to the police report, the flight attendant helped him find the shirt after spilling the drink. A third flight attendant “told her several times to calm down and sit down,” and the passenger “punched” [him] to the face with a clenched fist. “
A flight attendant and “nearby passengers stopped the defendant and had to tape him to the seat and fasten with a seat belt extender for the rest of the flight,” police said.
In the video, a man can be seen using a roll of tape to tie the passenger to the seat as he continues to shout.
A source familiar with Frontier said the airline’s planes are fitted with duct tape that can be used in extreme situations to deter a violent passenger. The source said Frontier’s onboard kit does not include flexible plastic handcuffs, as some airlines carry. A Frontier spokesperson did not comment on what restraint devices are on its plane.
She said the passenger “needs to be on the flight into Miami and restrained until law enforcement arrives.”
‘One of the worst examples’
The union representing Frontier’s flight attendants told CNN that the incident is “one of the worst examples” of unruly passengers this year.
“A drunk and irritable passenger verbally, physically and sexually assaulted several crew members,” said Sarah Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants.
“When they refused to comply after several attempts to de-escalate, the crew was forced to stop the passengers with the equipment available to them,” she said. “We’re supporting the crew.”
The AFA said last week that 85% of the nearly 5,000 members who responded to a union survey have experienced an unruly traveler this year, and nearly one in five have encountered a violent traveller.
Frontier did not tell CNN whether the passenger would be barred from future Frontier flights.
According to the police document, Berry was charged with battery thrice. It identifies the charge as a misdemeanor and says FBI agents who came to the scene and said they were not going to pursue federal felony charges.