An Irish passenger's behavior on board a flight from Dublin to New York was so bad that airline staff considered diverting the flight so that he could be removed from the aircraft, according to an FBI statement.
Shane McInerney, 29, from Co Galway, allegedly threw an empty beverage can at a fellow passenger's head and exposed his buttocks to airline staff during a Delta Airlines flight to New York's JFK Airport on January 7.
McInerney, who also refused to wear a face mask despite being asked to do so "dozens of times", has been charged with intentionally assaulting and intimidating a crew member and faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted.
He made an initial appearance in a federal court in Brooklyn on January 14 and has been released on a $20,000 bond, according to the US District Attorney's office.
The complaint filed on January 8 by an FBI special agent Mark Palagiano alleges that McInerney refused to wear a mask on dozens of occasions during the eight-hour flight. At one point, he threw an empty can and hit a passenger on the head, according to the complaint, while he also kicked the back of the seat in front of him, disturbing the passenger who was sitting there.
McInerney also allegedly walked from the economy section of the aircraft to the first-class section to complain to an attendant about the food. While he was being escorted back to his seat, McInerney pulled down his pants and exposed his buttocks to the flight attendant.
Roughly two hours into the flight, the captain spoke to McInerney while on a break from the cockpit.
The complaint alleges that McInerney twice took off his cap and placed it on the captain's head during the conversation, while he also put his fist close to the captain's face and said "don't touch me".
At least one passenger found McInerney's behavior to be "scary", according to the complaint, while members of the flight crew considered diverting the flight so that he could be removed from the plane.
The flight continued to JFK, however, and McInerney is accused of causing more disturbances as the plane began its descent.
As passengers buckled into their seats as the flight prepared for landing, McInerney allegedly stood up and walked into the aisle and "refused to sit back down".
The allegations against McInerney are the latest in a growing trend of violent incidents reported on flights in recent years.
In October last year, a passenger was accused of punching a flight attendant on the nose and giving her a concussion during an American Airlines flight from New York to Orange County, California. The incident reportedly centered around a mask dispute and caused the flight to be diverted to Denver, Colorado.
In December, a California resident pleaded guilty to repeatedly punching a Southwest Airlines flight attendant, bloodying her face and chipping three teeth.
In Northern Ireland, meanwhile, a woman was removed from an EasyJet flight from Belfast to Edinburgh in October 2020 after she repeatedly refused to wear a mask before fake coughing on staff and passengers.
Steve Dickson, the administrator of the US Federal Aviation Administration, said during an online talk last week that the administration had "seen a dramatic uptick in unruly passenger incidents".
"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.