Fights On Flights Lead To Diverted Planes And Corporate-Style Apologies

Crew fights on flights? It might sound like yet another late-night chat show one-liner about ways to keep customers entertained during that short hop between Dallas and Shreveport, but to passengers on Delta Flight 2598 headed from Los Angeles to Minneapolis on January 22, it was no joke.

According to the Aviation Herald, a publication that tracks air safety incidents and trends at the tech end of the industry but has no Sky Mall-type section, the altercation started 40 minutes after the flight’s departure from Los Angeles. At 37,000 feet, 200 miles south of Salt Lake City, the unexpected fight on the flight started when two attendants’ attention turned from “Coffee, Diet Coke, or bottled water with your Clinton-era peanuts?” to what has been politely termed “work issues.”

That was when the claws came out and fists started to fly. The Aviation Herald reported that a third woman attempted to intervene and ended up getting a swift hit in an unreported location. This flight fight was enough for the purser to tell everything to the captain, who was then faced with pulling over or turning around and going home if he couldn’t trust everyone in back to behave.

The captain, who was identified only as “the captain” in the Aviation Herald, decided to divert the flight to Salt Lake City, where they landed safely. The passengers cooled their heels for a reported 80 minutes with less exciting entertainment fare while the captain followed through on his request to the ATC to hear what the flight attendants had to say for themselves. Once the crew was removed and replaced with flight attendants who were not, or at least didn’t talk about being a part of the Flight Fight Club, the trip resumed with only a 75-minute delay upon arrival.

The Washington Post reports that Delta was quick to confirm the incident and offer an apology.

“Delta apologizes to those customers who were inconvenienced after flight 2598 from Los Angeles to Minneapolis-St. Paul made an unscheduled stop in Salt Lake City following an altercation involving two flight attendants on board,” the statement said. “The actions of these crew members in no way reflect the values and professionalism we expect from all of our employees. SkyMiles members received miles, while customers who are not currently SkyMiles members received a travel voucher.”

The official mea culpa from Delta added that passengers on that flight were given a letter apologizing for the delay and information regarding how they would be compensated for any inconvenience the fight may have caused.

Like a random airborne bug catching every passenger in the closed ecology that is the cabin of every flight, mile high pugnacity seems to be contagious. The Sun-Times Network reports that Joseph Sharkey, a 36-year-old resident of Reston, Virginia, was arrested after getting into a fight with another passenger on a Jet Blue flight shortly after departing from Ronald Reagan International Airport on January 31. Eyewitness accounts say the conflict went from verbal jabs to a full-on fight when Sharkey clamped down on his erstwhile rival, keeping him in a headlock until flight attendants intervened.

According to the New York Daily News, Sharkey’s day in the fights on flights club could ground him for up to 20 years if he is given federal assault charges. This is likely, since the fight card for this flight ended up including not only Sharkey’s cabin-mate, but the attendants who were attacked, including one crew member who took a knee to the groin and the passengers who helped stop the in-flight rampage when it looked like the Virginia man was going to try to escape through the exit door. He was cuffed, arrested, and is still in custody.

There’s no rule against talking about fights on flights, but the penalties may not be worth the high.

[Photo by Jeff Fusco/Getty Images]