California man caught on video punching flight attendant now faces charges

A Southern California man, seen on video punching an American Airlines employee earlier this week, was charged Thursday with a federal crime that carries a maximum sentence of 20 years.

The incident occurred on Wednesday during American Airlines flight 377 from San José del Cabo in Mexico to LAX.

Alexander Tung Cuu Le of Westminster was charged with one count of interference with flight crew members and attendants, which has a statutory maximum of 20 years in federal prison. A spokesperson for American Airlines said that Le was met by law enforcement officers upon arriving at LAX.

In an affidavit released by the Department of Justice’s California office, the incident began 20 minutes after takeoff when Le grabbed a flight attendant’s shoulder from behind and requested coffee. He continued to disturb the flight by allegedly loitering near the first-class cabin.

When a flight attendant approached Le to ask that he return to his assigned seat, Le “allegedly stood up and assumed a fighting stance towards the flight attendant by making closed fists with both of his hands,” according to the DOJ.

As seen in a video captured by flight passenger Barrie Livingstone, Le allegedly swung his arm at the flight attendant but missed. The American Airlines flight attendant turned their back to walk towards the flight deck before Le rushed forward to punch the attendant in the back of the head.

Since the violent episode was captured on video, it has prompted a national interest in the incident. Attacks on flight attendants and bad behavior from passengers have increased substantially in the last two years. According to a Federal Aviation Administration investigation into unruly passenger incidents, there have been 1,973 reports of unruly passengers and 680 investigations initiated so far in 2022.

In 2021, the FAA initiated 1,099 investigations which was a staggering increase from the 183 investigations launched in 2020.

Ciaran McEvoy, a spokesperson with the US Attorney’s Office, told SFGATE that Le appeared at the United States District Court on Thursday.

“Mr. Le appeared yesterday in downtown Los Angeles and that hearing was continued to Monday,” McEvoy said. “That will be a detention hearing to determine his bond, if any. Mr. Le has not pleaded to anything yet.”

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