(DALLAS) — A 32-year-old woman was jailed on aggravated assault charges after police alleged she got into a verbal dispute with two Southwest Airlines employees upon boarding a flight in Dallas and punched one in the head with a closed fist, sending the woman to a hospital.
The incident on Saturday marked the latest in a troubling string of angry confrontations aboard U.S. commercial jetliners that have led to physical violence.
The Dallas Police Department identified Arielle Jean Jackson on Sunday as the passenger who allegedly became violent on Southwest Airlines flight 4976 before it even left the ground at Dallas Love Field Airport.
The Federal Aviation Administration announced Sunday afternoon that it is launching an investigation of the incident and could refer it to the FBI for federal criminal review.
“Attacks on flight crews are flat-out wrong, and they are illegal,” the FAA said in a statement.
The incident unfolded around 12:40 p.m. on Saturday after Jackson boarded the flight and immediately got into a verbal altercation with a Southwest operations agent at the back of the plane and was ordered off the aircraft, police said in a statement released Sunday.
As Jackson was exiting the plane, she got into another verbal dispute with a second operations agent. Jackson then allegedly punched the employee in the head with a closed fist, police said.
The employee who was assaulted was taken to a hospital, where she was in stable condition on Sunday, police said.
Dallas police officers assigned to the airport boarded the aircraft and took Jackson into custody.
Police officials said an investigation of the incident is ongoing and declined to say what sparked the dispute.
The incident took place during the boarding process for flight 4976 that was scheduled to depart from Dallas Love Field Airport and arrive at LaGuardia Airport in New York.
Southwest said it “maintains a zero-tolerance policy regarding any type of harassment or assault and fully support our employee as we cooperate with local authorities regarding this unacceptable incident.”
The incident comes just days after FAA Administrator Steve Dickson spoke of a partnership between his agency and the FBI to refer the most egregious cases to the bureau for criminal review. The FAA has referred 37 cases out of the 227 recent cases it has initiated enforcement action on to the FBI for possible criminal review, according to the agency.
The FAA has proposed fines ranging from $9,000 to $32,000 for those convicted.
“Let this serve both as a warning and a deterrent: If you disrupt a flight, you risk not just fines from the FAA but federal criminal prosecution as well,” Dickson said in a statement released on Thursday.
The FAA said earlier this month it has received more than 5,000 reports from airlines of unruly passengers since the start of the year.
Airline crews have reported incidents in which visibly drunk passengers verbally abused, shoved and punched them, kicked seats, threw trash at them and defiled the restrooms.
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