A JetBlue passenger who departed from Boston choked a flight attendant and tried to force his way into the cockpit of a Puerto Rico-bound aircraft while shouting in Spanish and Arabic that he wanted to be shot, the FBI said in court papers.
The passenger was identified in an FBI affidavit as Kahlil El-Dahr, but no other information about his background was available Friday morning. He is facing prosecution in Puerto Rico for interfering with a flight crew, records show.
El-Dahr was a passenger on Flight 261 that departed from Logan International Airport shortly after 5 p.m. on Wednesday. He was assigned Seat 6A, but was allowed to move into Seat 6C “for more space,” FBI Special Agent William Lopez wrote in an affidavit filed in US District Court in Puerto Rico.
At one point, a flight attendant heard El-Dahr “say Allah in a raised tone,” Lopez wrote. El-Dahr later tried to make a telephone call “and became angry about the call’s unsuccess,” the affidavit stated.
About 45 minutes before landing, El-Dahr became more unruly, sparking a furious struggle that resulted in seven crew members combining their efforts to keep him out of the cockpit and secure him with plastic ties and belts in the back of the plane, Lopez wrote.
During the second incident, El-Dahr allegedly “pulled himself out of his seat and rushed toward the flight deck yelling to be shot in Spanish” and Arabic, Lopez wrote.
“The JetBlue [flight attendant] physically redirected El-Dahr into the area in front of the front row before the galley” just as a member of the flight crew opened the cockpit door, the agent wrote.
El-Dahr “observed the door open and then grabbed the [flight attendant] by their collar and tie with one hand while using his other hand to grab the overhead compartment to gain leverage to kick,’’ the affidavit stated. “As the [flight attendant] was kicked in the chest, El-Dahr yelled for the flight crew officer to shoot him.”
According to Transport Workers Union president John Samuelsen, El-Dahr was described by one of the flight attendants as “6 foot tall and rock solid” while the male flight attendant who bore the brunt of the attack is of average height and build.
As he tried to force his way into the cockpit, El-Dahr allegedly kept hold of the flight attendant’s tie, Lopez wrote.
“This resulted in the tie tightening and ultimately prevented the [flight attendant] from breathing,” Lopez alleged. “In response, the [flight attendant] released El-Dahr to loosen the tie to prevent from being choked and incapacitated.”
The flight attendant was then joined by as many as six other crew members who brought El-Dahr under control, Lopez wrote. An off-duty flight attendant provided a pair of plastic ties to use as handcuffs, but El-Dahr was able to break free, Lopez wrote.
The crew members were finally able to overpower the passenger, with the flight attendant using his necktie to restrain him for the rest of the flight, Lopez wrote.
El-Dahr was taken into custody at the San Juan airport, the FBI said. It wasn’t clear when he will appear in court.
In a statement, JetBlue said “law enforcement met JetBlue flight 261 from Boston to San Juan on September 22 after a physical altercation occurred on board with a customer who tried to access the flight deck. We applaud the crewmembers for their response to this challenging situation and for keeping the other customers on board safe.”
Samuelsen, whose union is in long-running negotiations to represent 5,000 workers at JetBlue, said he wants the Federal Aviation Administration to instruct airlines to change their uniform requirements so employees are not required to wear ties or scarves as JetBlue currently does. He also called for an expansion of the federal air marshal program and the creation of a national database of banned passengers.
“It’s a total full moon atmosphere ... wherever there is interaction with passengers,” said Samulelsen, a former correction officer at Rikers Island jail in New York. “The scourge of assaults is so widespread that it makes sense to have a separate entity on the plane that’s designed to protect the crew, not just protect the cockpit.”
He said the traumatized flight crew, which was based in Boston, was ordered to staff the return flight about 2.5 hours after the fierce struggle.
Disruptive behavior on airplanes has dramatically escalated this year, according to the Federal Aviation Administration and the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, a union that represents flight attendants at 17 airlines.
Since Jan. 1, the FAA has logged 4,284 reports of unruly passengers and 3,123 mask-related incidents. That has led to 755 investigations and 154 enforcement cases.
During congressional testimony in Washington D.C. on Wednesday, union president Sara Nelson said that at the current rate, there may be more incidents this year than in the “entire history of commercial aviation.”
“This is not a ‘new normal’ we can accept,” she said.