A passenger who refused to wear a mask on a flight from Dublin to New York City pulled down his pants and exposed his buttocks, threw a can at a passenger and put his cap on the captain’s head and told him, “Don’t touch me,” prosecutors said in a case unsealed Friday.
After the Delta Air Lines flight from Dublin to John F. Kennedy International Airport on Jan. 7, the passenger, Shane McInerney, 29, of Galway, Ireland, was charged with intentionally assaulting and intimidating a crew member, prosecutors said. If convicted, he faces up to 20 years in prison, prosecutors said.
On Saturday, McInerney’s lawyer, Benjamin Yaster, declined to comment on the charges. McInerney made an initial appearance in federal court in the New York City borough of Brooklyn on Jan. 14 and was released on a $20,000 bond, prosecutors said.
The charges represent the latest example of the unruly and sometimes violent behavior that has surged on airplanes since the start of the pandemic. Many of the disturbances have involved passengers who refused to wear masks, as required by the federal government.
On Wednesday, an American Airlines flight from Miami to London turned around about an hour into its journey because of a passenger who refused to wear a mask, the airline said.
In October, a passenger was accused of punching an American Airlines flight attendant in her nose, giving her a concussion, after a mask dispute. And in December, a California woman pleaded guilty to repeatedly punching a flight attendant on a Southwest Airlines flight, bloodying her face and chipping three teeth.
“Over the past year, we had seen a dramatic uptick in unruly passenger incidents, and we’ve undertaken a number of measures to get that under control,” Steve Dickson, administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration, said during an online discussion this past week.
“And I’m happy to say that the rates are down significantly, year over year, but we’ve still got more work to do,” Dickson said. “And this is, again, something that we need to continue to stay focused on.”
In a statement filed in court, an FBI agent said McInerney had refused to wear a mask despite being asked to do so “dozens” of times during the eight-hour flight. He threw an empty beverage can, hitting another passenger in the head, and kicked the seatback in front of him, disturbing the passenger there, the statement said.
At one point, he walked from his seat in the economy section to the first-class section and complained to a flight attendant about the food. While being escorted back to his seat, McInerney “pulled down his pants and underwear and exposed his buttocks” to the flight attendant and passengers sitting nearby, the statement said.
About two hours into the flight, the captain, while on a break, spoke to McInerney, the statement said. During the conversation, McInerney twice took off his cap, put it on the captain’s head and then removed it again, the statement said.
He also put a fist close to the captain’s face and said, “Don’t touch me,” the statement said.
At least one of the passengers found McInerney’s behavior to be “scary,” and members of the flight crew considered diverting the plane to another airport so that McInerney could be removed from the plane, the statement said.
The flight continued to New York. As the plane was making its final approach to JFK and everyone was buckled in their seats, McInerney again disobeyed the orders of flight attendants, according to the statement, which said he stood up, walked into the aisle and “refused to sit back down.”