An American Airlines flight attendant suffered a concussion after a passenger allegedly struck her in the face during a flight from New York to California, prompting the pilot to divert to Colorado last week, according to court documents released Monday.
The passenger, Brian Hsu, 20, was charged Monday with assault and interference with a flight crew, the U.S. District Attorney’s Office in Colorado said. He was ordered released on a $10,000 bond and is set to appear in federal court in Denver on November 15.
It was not known if Hsu had an attorney who could comment on his behalf.
In a federal complaint, authorities said the incident began when Hsu — who was returning to his home in Southern California from New York on Oct. 27 after undergoing brain surgery — got up to use the bathroom and stretch.
The flight attendant, who has not been identified, told investigators that she was struck in the head while talking with another flight attendant. After asking Hsu if he was alright, she told him to obey the seat belt sign and sit down, the documents say.
Hsu then allegedly struck her head with his elbow and punched her in the face with a closed fist, the documents say. One witness told authorities he struck her with a “full swing.”
Another witness recalled Hsu being restrained with duct tape and plastic bonds afterward, according to the documents.
The flight attendant, who described bleeding from her nose and becoming dizzy and nauseous, was taken to a hospital in Colorado after the pilot landed in Denver. Doctors there said she had a concussion, she told authorities.
Hsu told investigators that the flight attendant became “agitated and began swinging” at his head after he accidentally bumped her. He said he feared being struck so soon after his surgery, so he raised his hands defensively.
He denied punching the flight attendant and claimed that when she charged at him, her nose struck the palm of his hand, the documents say.
American Airlines CEO Doug Parker, who said Hsu would be banned from future American Airlines flights, again described the incident as part of the “very disturbing downside” of post-pandemic air travel. The number of federal probes into “unruly” airline passenger behavior has spiked this year, with investigators looking into nearly 1,000 cases. In 2019, the Federal Aviation Administration documented just 146.
According to the department, authorities have received nearly 5,000 complaints of such behavior, including more than 3,500 reports of mask-related incidents.
Claire Cardona contributed.