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Racial Slurs Forces American Flight to Divert Over Arizona

Racial Slurs Forces American Flight to Divert Over Arizona
Joe Cortez

Two flyers are facing charges of disorderly conduct after their alleged use of racial epithets aboard an American Airlines flight. The incident ultimately forced pilots to divert the flight to Phoenix, where the two passengers were arrested by police.

A pair of flyers from New York are facing charges of disorderly conduct, after police say their usage of racial slurs started a fight aboard a plane, requiring a diversion. Dallas-Fort Worth CBS affiliate KTVT-TV reports 30-year-old Kelly Pichardo and 29-year-old Leeza Rodriguez were both arrested and accused of behaving poorly on their flight.

Use of Racial Slurs Lead to Argument and Physical Altercation

Pichardo and Rodriguez, both from the Bronx, New York, were flying aboard American Airlines Flight 776 from Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport (DFW) to Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) on Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2021. Midway during the flight, police in Phoenix, Arizona say the two allegedly began using racial slurs in the course of a conversation.

A nearby passenger asked the two to stop using the language, and that’s where police say things got physical. As the conversation escalated to an argument, Pichardo is accused of spitting at the passenger, while Rodriguez allegedly hit the man’s hand to prevent him from filming the incident on his cell phone.

In a statement to KTVT, American claims the two individuals were “…physically assaulting other customers and flight crew members.” The pilots ultimately made the decision to divert the flight to Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX), where police apprehended the pair of passengers. Both were charged in the Phoenix Municipal Court. Rodriguez was charged with disorderly conduct for fighting, while Pichardo faces counts of disorderly conduct and assault.

It is unclear if the flyers are still in custody, or if they have entered a plea in their case. After they were removed, the flight was allowed to continue without further incident. American says the two have been added to the carrier’s internal ban list as they investigate the situation.

“Their behavior was disturbing and unacceptable, and they have been placed on the internal refuse list pending further investigation,” the airline’s statement to KTVT reads. “We continue to investigate this incident and are working directly with impacted customers to ensure their well-being. We thank our crewmembers for their professionalism in managing a difficult situation.”

Incident Happens after FAA Increased Penalties for Badly-Behaved Flyers

In addition to criminal penalties, it’s possible the flyers could also face civil penalties from the Federal Aviation Administration as well. In January 2021, the agency increased fines on unruly passengers to a maximum of $35,000 through March 31, 2021.

View Comments (11)


  1. gojko88


    March 1, 2021 at 10:11 pm

    Only in the US will a flight divert because someone was offended LOL

  2. bigbuy

    March 2, 2021 at 2:10 am

    Misleading headline. It was a fight, not slurs that forced the plane to divert.

  3. Cotumely

    March 2, 2021 at 5:30 am

    Will they also be liable for the diversion costs?

  4. oh912flyer

    March 2, 2021 at 6:21 am

    Click-bait headline. Language wasn’t the reason for the diversion, the physical assaults were. C’mon FT, you can do better…

  5. on-a-stick

    March 2, 2021 at 8:22 am

    So it wasn’t racial slurs that forced the diversion. It was violence among passengers.

  6. OnePatriot77

    March 2, 2021 at 10:28 am

    I hope Pichardo and Rodriguez are added to the NO FLY list.
    Future passengers should not be inconvenience by people that don’t know how to behave on a flight.

  7. deadmoneywalking

    March 2, 2021 at 11:48 am

    standard title click bait.

    But I love how they filed it in City Court amid a sea of red light camera violators.

  8. polinka

    March 3, 2021 at 1:15 pm

    “Accused of behaving poorly on a plane”. Is that a law? Why not assault?

  9. Prof_Dr_G

    March 4, 2021 at 7:05 am

    I saw a Greyhound bus many years ago. In many respects, flying is now the same as riding the bus,

  10. SamirD

    March 9, 2021 at 11:34 pm

    If this keeps up, there will be security cameras in the cabin for sure…

  11. AsiaTravel2019

    March 13, 2021 at 7:19 am

    The pandemic has caused the quality of air travelers to drop

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