Unruly passenger who caused Delta flight diversion was attendant on inactive status

A passenger who started a fracas on a Delta flight, causing the flight to be diverted to Oklahoma City, was a flight attendant who had been placed on leave prior to the event.

Credit: Channel 2 Action News

Credit: Channel 2 Action News

A passenger who started a fracas on a Delta flight, causing the flight to be diverted to Oklahoma City, was a flight attendant who had been placed on leave prior to the event.

An unruly passenger who caused a flight disturbance that diverted a cross-country Delta flight to Oklahoma City on Friday was a flight attendant on inactive status, according to the airline.

Atlanta resident Stephon Jamar Duncan, 34, was on Flight 1730 from Los Angeles bound for Atlanta.

Crew members said Duncan “was exhibiting strange and paranoid behavior,” the police report says. He was stashing personal items in various places throughout the plane, such as tennis balls with writing on them, trash and food.

“Duncan was ignoring flight crews’ orders to remain seated and stop disturbing and frightening passengers with odd and random statements,” according to the report. He handed a crew member a note saying, “alert Delta manager — terrorist on board.

The report says he used the PA system and made an announcement. A flight attendant tried to take away control of the PA system from him, which led to a scuffle between him and crew members, who were helped by passengers, while some other passengers recorded it on video.

In one video, someone trying to hold down the man yells, “We need the restraints. We need the restraints!”

Then, a pilot announces: “Ladies and gentlemen, this is the captain speaking. We would like all strong males to the front of the aircraft to handle a problem passenger.”

During the scuffle, Duncan allegedly shoved a crew member against the wall and began choking an off-duty crew member, the report says. Duncan was restrained with flex cuffs.

Some passengers who saw the fracas posted on social media that the man was trying to open a plane door. Delta said that was not the case, though the scuffle over the PA system occurred next to a door

Delta declined to say why Duncan had been placed on leave from his job as a flight attendant.

While thousands of employees took voluntary leaves that started last year as Delta sought to cut costs due to the pandemic, Duncan’s leave was not related to the COVID-19 cutbacks, according to a Delta spokesman.

The flight made an unscheduled landing in Oklahoma City, where the plane was met by law enforcement who had received a threat level 4 call, the second-highest level.

The plane was cleared, then passengers continued onto Atlanta a few hours later.

Duncan was taken to an Oklahoma City hospital and questioned by the FBI, police said, adding that he exhibited “signs of mental health issues.”

Oklahoma City police referred the case to the FBI, which is handling the investigation.

The incident comes after an unruly passenger on a Delta flight from Los Angeles to Nashville earlier this month caused a diversion to Albuquerque. On that June 4 flight, the passenger attempted to get into the cockpit and was yelling “stop the plane” as a flight attendant and passengers held him down and tied his hands and feet.

The Federal Aviation Administration earlier this year put in place a more stringent policy for disruptive passengers.

The agency proposed a $52,500 fine against a passenger who in December tried to open the cockpit door on a Delta flight from Honolulu to Seattle, struck a flight attendant twice and threatened him.

On Saturday after the Delta incident, the FAA tweeted “We have zero tolerance for unruly or dangerous behavior on an airplane.”

The AJC’s Shaddi Abusaid contributed to this article.