An argument that witnesses said started over masks and seat belts escalated into violence on a Delta aircraft on October 19. A passenger was recorded striking a flight attendant in the face and the video has circulated widely on social media. The confrontation happened while the plane was still on the ground in Miami, Florida.
Two BBC reporters who were on the plane said the altercation began after a passenger refused to wear a mask, as per Delta’s rules. NBC Miami also cited witnesses who said the woman’s boyfriend refused to put on a seat belt. Both passengers were eventually removed from the plane after police arrived.
Heavy has reached out to Delta for comment.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Witnesses Were Recording as a Passenger Struck a Flight Attendant in the Face
Here’s what happened on our @delta flight from #Miami to #Atlanta tonight after a passenger refused to wear a mask as per policy and then gets into altercation with flight attendant. Video via @kingcoreythefirst on IG pic.twitter.com/TBBYq1VCBb
— Suzanne Kianpour (@KianpourWorld) October 20, 2020
Reporters Suzanne Kianpour and Katty Kay, who both work for the BBC, shared on Twitter that they were on the flight #DL1997 from Miami to Atlanta on October 19. Both wrote that the flight was delayed about three hours before the confrontation even began.
Kay posted just before 10 p.m. that the passengers were told the aircraft was returning to the gate “because a passenger refuses to wear a mask.” She expressed frustration that the already-delayed flight “will be later still.” She further questioned a few minutes later, “Why get on the plane in the first place if you’re going to refuse to follow the safety rules? Would he also refuse to wear a seatbelt? Or start smoking on board?”
Kianpour shared a video of what happened next and credited Instagram user @kingcoreythefirst for the footage. In the clip, the blonde flight attendant is standing in the aisle along with two passengers. It’s unclear what the flight attendant and the woman are saying to each other, but the woman is seen moving closer to the flight attendant and getting in her face. The woman then appears to shove the flight attendant back by striking her in the face.
The shove prompted the other passengers to collectively gasp and protest. In the clip, witnesses are heard exclaiming “Hey!” and “No!” after the flight attendant was struck. The clip ends with the crew member recovering and continuing to argue with the passenger.
2. Another Passenger Said the Flight Attendant Never Touched the Woman
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#mustwatch Ughhhh this literally happens right in my face. All I want to do is get home at this point! How you mad cause your boyfriend caused the WHOLE flight to be turned around & delayed cause he don’t want to put his seat belt on? and they been asking y’all to get off the flight for the past hour. ( then had the nerve to say they fly 1st class flights 🥴) You’re GOING TO JAIL 🗣this is so ghetto 🤦🏽♀️ #delta P.S: the flight was supposed to leave at 9:00 🙄 “To use this content, media outlets must contact firstname.lastname@example.org”
NBC Miami spoke with other witnesses who said the argument was initially triggered because of a seat belt. The outlet reported that the flight attendant asked the woman’s boyfriend to put on his seatbelt but that he refused. KABC-TV also reported the woman and her boyfriend refused to put on their masks, citing witnesses.
Instagram user @iamlaurynengland was also recording from her seat on the plane. In that clip, the woman was heard telling the flight attendant repeatedly “You shouldn’t have touched me” and that she would “knock your a**.” England told NBC Miami the flight attendant never touched the woman. The woman’s boyfriend appeared to hold her back and a few seconds later, another Delta crew member stepped in between them as well.
3. The Flight Was Delayed an Extra Hour Because the 2 Passengers Refused to Leave the Jetway, According to a BBC Reporter
Captain just announced the passengers wouldn’t leave the jetway after leaving the plane so that’s why it took another hour before we could push back. Says he’s never seen anything like it in 33 years of flying!
— Katty Kay (@KattyKay_) October 20, 2020
The violence appears to have happened before law enforcement arrived; no police officers are visible in the clip. Kay shared just after 10:30 p.m. that Miami Police officers had boarded the plane. The officers escorted the woman and her boyfriend off the aircraft.
But that was not the end of the ordeal. The flight did not take off for an extra hour. Kay posted just after midnight that the two passengers who weere removed from the plane refused to enter the terminal. “Captain just announced the passengers wouldn’t leave the jetway after leaving the plane so that’s why it took another hour before we could push back. Says he’s never seen anything like it in 33 years of flying!” Kay later shared that the flight finally arrived in Atlanta at 2 a.m.
Kay and Kianpour both praised Delta for resolving the issue. Kay remarked about the crew’s patience and expressed sympathy for the workers whose shifts were extended because of the delay. Kianpour thanked the company for “depositing a chunk of miles into my account for the flight delay last night that was not your fault.”
4. The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention Recommends All Passengers Wear Masks While Using Public Transportation, Including Planes
CDC strongly recommends everyone wear a mask while traveling on public transportation (including airplanes, ships, ferries, trains, subways, buses, taxis, ride-shares) to reduce the spread of #COVID19. Learn more: https://t.co/bpOhIx8xbS. pic.twitter.com/wyf7Wl1uEs
— CDC (@CDCgov) October 20, 2020
Public health professionals have issued guidance recommending all passengers wear facial coverings while using public transportation. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says this guidance, which was issued on October 19, applies to airplanes, ships, ferries, trains, subways, buses, taxis and ride-shares. The agency says workers, including drivers, crew members and conductors should all wear masks as well. The Washington Post cited an agency official who explained the updated language “gives the airline industry more cover” to enforce mask rules.
The CDC pointed out that while traveling on a plane, train or bus, social distancing from other passengers “may be difficult if not impossible.” There is an increased risk of virus transmission because public transportation brings travelers “in close contact with others, often for prolonged periods, and exposing them to frequently touched surfaces.” The CDC says wearing a mask can mitigate the risk and stop COVID-19 from spreading across state lines.
The agency’s guidance was issued on the heels of another study that found virus transmission was “virtually nonexistent” on planes when everyone on board is wearing a mask. The study was conducted by the Department of Defense and United Airlines using mannequins. As Forbes reported, the risk of contracting the virus when wearing a mask was lowered in part due to an aircraft’s “aggressive air filtration and circulation systems.”
5. Delta Already Required Passengers to Wear Masks During Flights
Delta Air Lines already required passengers to wear face masks during flights prior to the CDC’s updated guidelines. According to the company’s website, masks are specifically required at places where passengers interact with the crew and other travelers:
- Lobby Check-in
- Delta Sky Clubs
- Boarding Gate Areas
- Jet Bridges
- On board the aircraft for the duration of the flight – except limited time while eating or drinking
Delta recommends travelers keep the mask on while going through security and while using public restrooms but it is not required. Passengers with underlying medical conditions that prevent them from wearing masks are urged to either reconsider flying or else be willing to go through a “Clearance-to-Fly” process before boarding. Children under the age of 2, as well as unaccompanied minors, are exempt from the mask rule.