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Wed, Sep 14, 2022

Four Month Prison Sentence for Unruly Airline Passenger

Justice for All

A New York woman has been sentenced to four months in prison followed by 36-months of supervised release for unruly behavior aboard a 2021 American Airlines flight from Dallas to Los Angeles. Kelly Pichardo—who pleaded guilty to interfering with a flight-crew—will also pay American Airlines $9,123 in restitution. Likely that sum won’t come close to offsetting the cost of the diversion to Phoenix necessitated by Pichardo’s selfishness—but it’s a start.

Passengers aboard the 24 February flight reported first-class passengers Pichardo and her traveling companion, Leeza Rodriguez, used racial slurs, and Pichardo spat at and struck a man who confronted the unruly pair. In a plea agreement Pichardo admitted to “yelling and cursing” at the man and knowingly intimidating a male flight attendant who attempted to de-escalate the situation.

Gary Restaino, the U.S. attorney for the district of Arizona stated: “There is a line between boorish behavior on an airplane and criminal activity, and the defendant clearly crossed it. First-class passengers are not immune from prosecution. The defendant’s verbal and physical intimidation disrupted the travel of passengers and crew alike.”

Conversely, Pichardo’s public defender speciously argued she should receive no prison time—stating in a sentencing memo that his client had a history of mental illness and sexual abuse. Counsel further alleged Rodriguez, not Pichardo, conversationally used a variation of “n***er” after a Black passenger seated behind the two women attempted to engage them socially. The conflict escalated after subject individual touched Pichardo’s shoulder and requested she refrain from racial epithets—so says the memo.

An American Airlines spokesperson called Pichardo’s and Rodriguez’s behavior “disturbing and unacceptable,” and made clear that the women had been placed on an internal “no-fly” list pending further investigation of the incident.

The Federal Aviation Administration received nearly 6,000 complaints of unruly passengers in 2021, 1,099 of which resulted in investigations. In 2019, prior to the global COVID panic, only 146 such incidents were investigated. The FAA has since cracked-down on unruly air-travelers, levying record fines and imposing a permanent zero-tolerance policy.

Not surprisingly, instances of air-borne belligerence and complaints thereof have diminished dramatically since the Biden administration’s mask mandate was ruled unconstitutional by a federal judge. Since the week ending 24 April 2022, the average number of weekly complaints pertaining to combative passengers has remained below that of the fourth quarter of 2020—prior to the effective date of Biden’s mask mandate.

Between 01 January and 06 September 2022, the FAA received 1,198 complaints of unruly air-travelers—663 of which led to investigations, and 450 of which resulted in enforcement actions.

In a sentencing memo of his own, Counselor Restaino posited Pichardo’s four month sentence would “provide a general deterrent for the greater public to not act unruly on airplanes.” Mr. Restaino added: “This is incredibly important now, with an uptick in these incidents over the past year. A stronger sentence in this case will foster a respect of the law in not only the Defendant, but also the general public.”



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