Passenger accused of punching flight attendant misses court appearance due to ‘episode’

Published: Sep. 24, 2021 at 4:39 PM HST|Updated: Sep. 24, 2021 at 4:42 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The 32-year-old man charged with assault and interference with a flight crew after allegedly punching a Hawaiian Air flight attendant will spend the weekend in the Honolulu Federal Detention Center after missing his initial court appearance Friday morning.

Steven Sloan, Jr. faces the charges following an “unprovoked incident” Thursday on a Honolulu-to-Hilo flight. On Friday, Sloan’s public defender said she was not able to speak with him ahead of the proceeding. The assistant U.S. attorney told the judge Sloan was having an “episode.”

According to a criminal complaint, Sloan “punched the flight attendant in the chest with a closed right fist.” At the time, the flight attendant was walking in the aisle collecting trash.

The flight attendant told authorities the suspect didn’t say a word before the attack.

The victim was also hit a second time on the side of the head.

Sloan’s first appearance was rescheduled for Monday. If convicted, he faces up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

“If you attack a crew member, there are more serious consequences,” said Alexander Silvert, a retired federal public defender who represented many clients accused of mid-air crimes.

“We used to get five or six cases at the federal public defender’s office a year,” Silvert said.

He added that “air rage” has been happening more often since COVID restrictions went into place.

This year alone, Hawaiian Airlines reports they have banned 98 passengers from flying for one year because of disruptive behavior.

Since March 2020, when the pandemic began, 174 have been grounded.

Hours after Sloan was arrested Thursday, a Hawaiian Airlines plane heading to Seattle turned around because a passenger refused to wear a mask.

Aviation expert and former pilot Peter Forman said a Hawaii crew will turn around if they are not halfway to their destination.

”It’s the half-way point, according to time rather than distance so that’s how they make their decision,” he said, adding it’s a difficult call because it’s very expensive to turn back.

Forman said a new crew could be needed, which takes time, and fuel costs can run $10,000 if a plane returns. He said airlines should file a lawsuit to force the passenger to pay that bill.

“I think it’s appropriate and if people understand how expensive it’s going to be for them for carrying on these behaviors, they’re less likely to do them.”

Meanwhile, amid a surge in air rage incidents nationally, some in the airline industry want to share the names on their no-fly lists to keep disruptive passengers from taking off.

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