Bizarre incidents on recent flights have one thing in common: California

An airplane takes off
A Delta Boeing 737 at San Diego International Airport.
(Howard Lipin / San Diego Union-Tribune)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s June 16. I’m Justin Ray.

You could be forgiven if you’re reluctant to fly in California. Not because of the coronavirus, but because of recent bizarre incidents that have taken place on planes. Flights have been interrupted by misconduct that includes assault, a cockpit breach attempt and people just being rude.

Case in point: The woman who is now banned from Southwest Airlines for life after she was captured on video punching a flight attendant in the face on a late May trip from Sacramento to San Diego. The flight attendant ended up losing two teeth, according to the union that represents her. The 28-year-old suspect was charged with battery, police said in a statement.

Then there was the Venice man aboard a June 4 Delta Air Lines flight from Los Angeles to Nashville who was charged with causing an in-flight disturbance, according to the U.S. Justice Department. After takeoff, the department says, he “rushed to the front of the aircraft and began pounding on the door to the flight deck.” He allegedly pushed a flight attendant out of his way and was eventually subdued by other passengers. The fracas caused the flight to be redirected to Albuquerque.

A Delta flight from Los Angeles to New York was diverted to Detroit earlier this month after a passenger became unruly, CBS reported. The pilot told other passengers that the person became “a threat,” forcing the diversion.

Just this week, a passenger traveling from Boise, Idaho, to Los Angeles was among four facing proposed fines from the Federal Aviation Administration for an incident earlier this year. The man smoked an e-cigarette in an Alaska Airlines plane lavatory, activating the smoke detector system, the agency says. He also refused a flight attendant’s repeated demands to wear his face mask properly, over his mouth and nose. He faces a proposed $10,300 fine.


Then there was the incident involving an off-duty flight attendant on a Delta Air Lines flight on June 11, according to the New York Times. He grabbed the public address system and made an announcement about oxygen masks, leading to a struggle with passengers and crew members who managed to detain him.

When contacted for comment, Delta pointed the Los Angeles Times to Chief Executive Ed Bastian’s recent “Good Morning America” appearance. “We know the pandemic caused a lot of emotional well-being challenges for a lot of people, and as everyone is coming back to life, we’re seeing this in all walks of life,” Bastian said about recent incidents.

Requests for comment from Southwest and Alaska Airlines were not returned in time for publication.

An FAA spokesman disclosed to The Times even more troubling information. Since Jan. 1, 2021, the agency has received roughly 3,000 reports of unruly behavior by passengers, including about 2,300 reports of people refusing to comply with the federal mask mandate.

“We’re concerned about all incidents, regardless of the cause,” the spokesman said. “We’re seeing a wide range of unacceptable behaviors, including passengers refusing to wear face masks, drinking their own alcohol, inappropriately touching other passengers and flight attendants, refusing to stay seated during landings and takeoffs and even assaulting flight attendants or other passengers.”

Regarding the recent incidents, the FAA spokesman said, “We can say with confidence that the number of reports we’ve received during the past several months are significantly higher than the numbers we’ve seen in the past.”


“The FAA is strictly enforcing a zero-tolerance policy toward passengers who cause disturbances on flights or fail to obey flight crew instructions,” the agency has said. Airlines have also responded, by delaying serving alcohol on flights.

The incidents come as airlines are seeing a huge influx of passengers after a year of Americans being forced to stay inside. Over Memorial Day weekend, Los Angeles International Airport saw more than 78,000 travelers going through Transportation Security Administration checkpoints. The New York Times notes that Southwest has turned a profit in the first three months of 2021, the first major U.S. airline to do so.

As has been said many times, California’s mask-free updated guidance does not apply to public transportation. A May 14 joint statement from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and TSA states that “if you travel, you are still required to wear a mask on planes, buses, trains and other forms of public transportation traveling into, within or out of the United States, and in U.S. transportation hubs such as airports and stations.”

And now, here’s what’s happening across California:

Reopening: Everything to know about the big day

What exactly is going on now? You might be understandably confused about what changed Tuesday. Times staff writers Rong-Gong Lin II and Luke Money give a rundown of everything you need to know about the new rules.

How locals reacted: The excitement was palpable as residents enjoyed their first day of near-normal life in more than a year. “It’s one of the best days of my life because I, along with many others, experienced the worst global health crisis of our lifetime,” one restaurant-goer said.

Why will it work this time? California tried to reopen before, but the results were not pretty: Relaxing restrictions led to new surges of COVID-19. But this time around, officials are confident COVID-19 won’t be able to stage a widespread return due to the declining rate of infections and rising number of vaccinations.

Photos capture the big day: Gov. Gavin Newsom juggles balls, a man shares a tender moment with a goat, and people ride a roller coaster.

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News in marijuana. The California Legislature has approved a $100-million plan to help the state’s legal marijuana industry. Many cannabis growers have struggled to convert temporary licenses to permanent ones. About 82% of the state’s cannabis licensees still held the temporary one as of April, according to the governor’s office. Los Angeles Times

Marijuana plants
Marijuana grows in a greenhouse in Carpinteria at the southern end of Santa Barbara County.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)


Investigation into weapons. A decade ago, 26 AK-74 assault rifles were stolen from Fort Irwin. Authorities in Central California are still recovering the weapons, which were taken by military police officers. Some were sold to the Fresno Bulldogs street gang; at least nine have not been recovered. Associated Press

Shootout on video. A gunfight between Bakersfield police and a suspect was caught on video. On Sunday afternoon, police pursued the suspect for “vehicle code violations,” according to the department. The suspect remained hospitalized Monday, in critical condition. KGET

Dentist accused of sexually abusing patients. A dentist in Los Angeles was charged with sexually abusing nine female patients. He was accused of preying on women from immigrant and low-income communities. The charges follow a lengthy investigation by sex crimes detectives at the LAPD’s West Bureau. Los Angeles Times

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Activists brave the heat. A climate justice march that started in Paradise and ended in San Francisco was attended by more than 100 activists. They hope to get California lawmakers to support the “most progressive version possible” of President Biden’s plan to reimagine former President Franklin Roosevelt’s Civilian Conservation Corps, a program that created jobs by hiring people for projects such as building roads and bridges. KQED


Two award winners. Two Associated Press photographers won Pulitzers for their coverage of civil unrest that erupted after George Floyd was killed in Minnesota. Both are immigrants who lived in Los Angeles before snapping their award-winning photos. Our Esquina

Teenager decorates veterans’ graves. Preston Sharp, 15, of Redding spent Flag Day decorating graves at the Iowa Veterans Cemetery. He began his project in 2015 after a Veterans Day visit to the grave of his grandfather, who served in the Navy. After seeing undecorated markers, Sharp decided to place flags and carnations on veterans’ graves across the country. Des Moines Register

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Los Angeles: Partly cloudy, 88. San Diego: Partly cloudy, 78. San Francisco: Partly cloudy, 74. San Jose: Sunny, 91. Fresno: Sunny, 103. Sacramento: Sunny, 104.


Today’s California memory comes from Jan Hoerst:

When I lived in L.A. in the late 1970s-early ’80s, I called myself the “ultimate tourist.” I lived in the mid-Wilshire district, where I’d shop at Larchmont Village and the old Farmer’s Market until I moved to an historic 140-acre Pacific Palisades conference grounds owned by the Presbyterian Church Synod, for which I worked. I felt lucky to be at the church conference grounds in such beautiful places: Pacific Palisades, Big Bear Lake, Lake Arrowhead and one near Ronald Reagan’s ranch. When Reagan became president, there was quite a buzz around Pacific Palisades because he lived there. When President Reagan was shot, it felt close to home. Years later, when he passed away, I returned to L.A. to show my daughter where she was born and lived her first year. We paid our respects at the Reagan Library and saw his newly laid grave with flowers still there from his funeral. Today, the conference facilities at Pacific Palisades are owned by the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, but my son and his family live in L.A., enjoying the California dream. When I come to see them, I visit all of my old familiar places.

If you have a memory or story about the Golden State, share it with us. (Please keep your story to 100 words.)

For the record: Tuesday’s newsletter stated that only Californians vaccinated against COVID-19 could obtain a free topping, or equivalent side serving, of Queso Blanco at Chipotle. All Californians were able to regardless of their vaccination status.

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