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Video: Airplane passengers brawl over reclining seat

An American Airlines plane. (Dreamstime/TNS)
August 03, 2021

A fistfight broke out in the middle of a plane on Sunday over a reclining seat on American Airlines flight 4698, operated by Republic Airways, according to video of the brawl.

After a flight from New Orleans to Austin arrived at Austin-Bergstrom airport around 4:20 p.m., two large men traded blows in the aisle as several other passengers shouted “stop it” in the background.

“I swear to God,” someone is heard yelling in the video. “Come on now. Don’t hurt anybody else on this plane. Just don’t hurt anybody else.”

At one point, a woman attempts to intervene, and another is heard screaming at the clashing men.

“When the plane finally landed in Austin and the seatbelt sign was turned off, both men jumped up and physically started fighting each other,” one passenger said, as reported by CBS Austin.

According to KXAN, both men were detained by Austin Police following the scuffle, but neither was arrested. A statement from American Airlines said “law enforcement were requested” after the plane landed in Austin “due to an altercation between passengers.” No additional information was provided.

The local news outlet reported that one passenger said the fight was sparked by “a seat that couldn’t un-recline.”

In January, Federal Aviation Administration Administrator Steve Dickson signed an order demanding “stricter legal enforcement policy against unruly airline passengers in the wake of recent, troubling incidents.”

“Historically, the agency has addressed unruly-passenger incidents using a variety of methods ranging from warnings and counseling to civil penalties. Under the new zero tolerance policy, FAA will not address these cases with warnings or counseling. The agency will pursue legal enforcement action against any passenger who assaults, threatens, intimidates, or interferes with airline crew members,” the FAA said in a statement.

The FAA reported that it has received 3,271 reports of “unruly behavior by passengers” so far in 2021. The administration has found at least 540 cases to be potential violations and has initiated enforcement action in 83 cases. Over the same period, the FAA has proposed over $682,000 in fines against passengers engaging in unruly behavior.

“The FAA is strictly enforcing a zero-tolerance policy toward passengers who cause disturbances on flights, fail to obey flight crew instructions in violation of the FAA’s regulations, or engage in conduct proscribed by federal law,” the FAA wrote. “The passengers have 30 days after receiving the FAA’s enforcement letter to respond to the agency. The FAA does not identify individuals against whom it proposes civil penalties.”