DALLAS — A passenger faces assault charges after punching a Southwest Airlines employee while boarding a flight at Dallas Love Field on Saturday afternoon, police said.
A passenger verbally and physically assaulted a female employee, punching her in the head, officials said. The employee, who has not been identified, was taken to a hospital and has since been released.
Dallas police said the passenger, Arielle Jean Jackson, went to the back of the plane during boarding and had a “verbal altercation” with an employee who then asked her to leave the plane.
While exiting the plane, Jackson, 32, argued with and then hit a second employee, police said.
Jackson, who was arrested at the airport, faces one charge of aggravated assault and is being held in Dallas County Jail in lieu of $10,000 bail as of Sunday afternoon. It is unclear if she had an attorney.
“Our entire Southwest Family is wishing [the employee] a speedy and full recovery as we send our thoughts, prayers, and love to her,” Southwest Airlines spokesman Chris Mainz said in a statement to The Dallas Morning News.
The investigation is ongoing, and it is unclear what led to the argument.
“Southwest Airlines maintains a zero-tolerance policy regarding any type of harassment or assault and fully supports our employee as we cooperate with local authorities regarding this unacceptable incident,” Mainz said in the statement.
The Federal Aviation Administration reported more than 5,000 incidents of unruly passengers across all airlines as of November this year, about 3,700 of which were related to mask-wearing. The FAA launched 973 investigations into these incidents. One hundred of those reports involved physical assault.
“The rising violence at airports shows that we must finally increase penalties for unruly passengers that assault airline workers,” said Richard Johnsen, a representative for the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers.
Last week, FAA officials announced more than $225,000 in civil penalties against 10 airline passengers for alleged unruly behavior. This month, the agency referred more than three dozen passengers to the FBI for possible criminal charges.
“If a passenger physically assaults crewmembers or other passengers on one airline, they pose a risk to passengers and crew at every airline,” Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, said in a statement last week. “They should be banned from flying on all airlines. Period.”
Johnsen said punishments should include federal prosecution or a “no-fly list” status for passengers who break the law. No such industrywide list exists, but airlines may keep internal lists of people banned from their planes.
Johnsen added that the trending violence at airports is a symptom of the pandemic and understaffing. He urged airlines to hire additional employees ahead of the busy holiday season.