A Texan woman could face a hefty jail sentence for allegedly attacking a flight cabin crew member after they woke her husband.
Debby Dutton of Cypress, Texas faced charges of interfering with a flight by assaulting a flight attendant in federal court in Houston last Friday.
She was flying from Alaska to San Francisco with United Airlines on 29 June when the alleged incident took place.
According to a criminal complaint, about three-and-a-half hours into the four-and-a-half-hour flight, a crew member was collecting trash and checking passengers were complying with the federal mask mandate.
They noticed a man’s mask had fallen from his face while he slept, and tapped him on the shoulder to wake him up and ask him to put his mask back on, which he did.
The man’s wife, Dutton, stood up and began shouting at the crew member as they continued down the aisle and walked towards them as they tried to explain that the man needed to wear his mask.
She ignored them and continued to scream before pushing the crew member twice until her husband asked her to sit back down.
The crew member, who immediately reported the incident to the captain, said they were “caught off guard and felt threatened and afraid” and that Dutton’s assault was “painful and forceful” and left bruising on their arm, causing them to seek medical attention after the flight.
Early in the flight, attendants announced over the plane’s intercom that passengers must wear their masks at all times and flight attendants will wake passengers if their masks fall off while they are asleep.
Authorities interviewed multiple passengers who witnessed the incident, and Dutton was charged with one count of interference by assault, threat or intimidation with flight crew members or attendants, which carries a maximum penalty of 20 years.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has reported a huge increase in unruly passenger behaviour since the beginning of the global pandemic, with the number of investigations initiated skyrocketing from 146 in 2019 to 991 so far in 2021.
The organisation has also received 5,240 reports of unruly passengers and 3,798 reports of mask-related incidents since the beginning of this year.
Face masks have been compulsory at airports and on board commercial aircraft in the US since January, with the mandate recently being extended to 18 January 2022.
Travel Weekly has contacted United Airlines for comment
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