A man pleaded guilty Wednesday after a flight headed to LAX from Washington D.C. had to be diverted because he was involved in an altercation with a flight attendant and a U.S. air marshal.
Ariel James Pennington, 35, of Los Angeles, pleaded guilty to interference with a flight attendant, the United States Attorney for the Western District of Oklahoma announced.
On Jan. 18, a federal grand jury returned a two-count indictment against Pennington for offenses he committed while traveling on a flight from Arlington, Virginia, to L.A.
The first count alleges that Pennington assaulted and intimidated a flight attendant, thereby interfering with the flight attendant’s ability to perform their duties. The second count alleges that Pennington assaulted a Federal Air Marshal on the same flight.
Pennington pleaded guilty to the first count Wednesday. As part of a plea agreement, the government agreed to dismiss the second count at sentencing of the indictment.
The incident occurred on board a Delta flight on Dec. 9, 2021. It’s unclear what prompted the altercation, but at some point during the flight, Pennington became upset and allegedly assaulted a flight attendant.
The air marshal intervened and had the passenger in custody when the flight, which had to be diverted to Oklahoma City, landed at Will Rogers World Airport. Oklahoma City police officers escorted Pennington off the plane and detained him until the FBI arrived to question him.
Pennington was booked into the Oklahoma County Detention Center on suspicion of disorderly conduct and public drunkenness. He was bonded out after spending about 5 hours in jail and paying $334 in fines.
Video shows Pennington, who was not wearing a face mask while it was required, arguing with people on the plane before being escorted off with his hands behind his back.
The incident came amid a surge of unruly passengers disrupting flights. Nearly 4,000 involved mask incidents, the Federal Aviation Administration said in December 2021.
Pennington faces a maximum sentence of 20 years imprisonment and a fine of $250,000, followed by up to three years of supervised release.
A sentencing date will be set by the court in approximately 90 days.
The case was charged in the Western District of Oklahoma because the flight was diverted to and landed at Will Rogers World Airport in Oklahoma City.