After an irate 75-year-old man allegedly pushed over a female flight attendant on Friday, causing the cancellation of an Air New Zealand flight, passengers were staggered by the police decision that followed.
The flight was NZ 648, a domestic sector from Queenstown to Auckland.
While details are sketchy, the captain of the flight called police after the incident on Friday evening. An “agitated” 75-year-old man had apparently pushed a flight attendant, causing her to fall over while passengers were boarding.
The New Zealand Herald spoke to a passenger on the flight who said he had to physically restrain the 75-year-old man, who had apparently decided to shove past a flight attendant rather than show her his boarding pass or ticket.
Paul Donaghy told the paper the man appeared to be in a confused state.
“A minute later the captain burst out of the cockpit and pointed his finger at the guy and said ‘You’re off’,” Donaghy said, adding that two female flight attendants had been involved and both were visibly distraught and upset after being “roughed up” by the man.
While nobody was injured, Air New Zealand took the incident seriously. The flight was cancelled. The assailant, a New Zealander, was taken into police custody and initially charged with common assault.
Then came the shock. Police said they later let the man off with a warning “because of his remorse” according to a report in the Wellington Dominion Post.
Some passengers were surprised to hear that, feeling a more serious penalty was warranted, considering the disruption caused. Some passengers missed onward flights and possibly international connections, while others had to spend an extra night in Queenstown.
More generally, airlines around the world are debating how to deal with increasingly bizarre and threatening in-flight behaviour. IATA recorded 10,854 passenger disruptions worldwide last year, or one incident for every 1205 flights. That’s an increase from the 9316 incidents (one incident for every 1282 flights) reported in 2014.
Most incidents involved verbal abuse, failure to follow lawful crew instructions and other forms of anti-social behaviour. A significant proportion (11%) of reports indicated physical aggression towards passengers or crew or damage to the aircraft. Alcohol or drug intoxication was identified as a factor in 23% of cases.
Written by Peter Needham, near Taumatawhakatangihangakoauauotamateaturipukakapikimaungahoronukupokaiwhenuakitanatahu, New Zealand.