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Flight from London to L.A. diverted to Salt Lake City due to unruly passenger

The Salt Lake City Police Department said the disruptive passenger was “physically detained" by fellow passengers and flight crew members during the incident.
The Virgin Atlantic flight was one of many each day that travels from London's Heathrow Airport to LAX.
The Virgin Atlantic flight was one of many each day that travels from London's Heathrow Airport to LAX.Roert Smith / NurPhoto via AP file

A Virgin Atlantic flight from London to Los Angeles was diverted to Salt Lake City on Tuesday due to an "unruly passenger" who was arrested after being detained by fellow passengers and crew members onboard, officials said.

Flight 141 had been headed from London's Heathrow Airport to Los Angeles when the passenger became disruptive, a spokesperson for Virgin Atlantic said.

"The aircraft diverted to Salt Lake City to be met by police authorities," they said.

A spokesperson for the Salt Lake City Police Department said officers with the force's airport division were called to respond to the incident around 4:30 p.m. local time.

They said the unruly passenger had been "physically detained by other passengers and flight crew members." According to the Salt Lake City police department the 39-year-old, identified as United Kingdom resident Stephen Hayes, allegedly assaulted the flight crew and at least one other passenger which resulted in minor injuries. Hayes also allegedly kicked airplane seats and windows.

One passenger on the flight said he was traveling back from vacation in northern Spain and was seated in the front cabin during the disturbance. “I felt very fortunate because just knowing you had professionals on board who can deal with that sort of thing is great,” Jonathan Talberg, 53, told NBC News from Long Beach, California. “I just think that they’re real heroes in the sky right now putting up with unruly passengers.”

The flight was eventually able to continue to Los Angeles, arriving approximately four hours behind schedule, the airline spokesperson said, apologizing for the "inconvenience caused to customers onboard."

"The safety and well-being of our customers and crew is always our top priority and we don’t tolerate any behavior that compromises this," the airline spokesperson said, adding that the cabin crew was "highly trained to deal with any individuals that may impact that experience for others."

The airline denied earlier reports that Hayes tried to breach the cockpit of the aircraft. The SLCPD also said there was no evidence that Hayes attempted to breach the cockpit.

The Federal Aviation Administration adopted a "zero tolerance" stance against unruly passengers in January 2021 after what officials called a dramatic increase in violent or disruptive behavior on flights.

In 2021 alone, there were more 5,981 “unruly passenger reports,” most of which involved federal requirements for masks be worn due to the Covid pandemic, according to FAA data.

So far this year, there have been 1,701 reports of unruly passengers, as of Tuesday, with 582 investigations initiated by the agency.

Airlines around the world have also faced difficulties in keeping up with consumer demand in recent months, largely due to staffing shortages, extreme weather and Covid outbreaks among employees.