A passenger on a Delta Air Lines flight from Ireland to New York City “repeatedly refused to wear a facemask despite being asked dozens of times” by the flight crew, at one point stripping down to “moon” his fellow travelers, according to a criminal complaint first obtained by The Daily Beast.
Shane McInerney’s alleged public meltdown took place on Jan. 7, while Delta flight number 45 was making its way across the Atlantic from Dublin to JFK airport, states the complaint, which was unsealed on Friday.
McInerney is a former Irish pro footballer who was flying to the U.S. for a coaching job at a soccer academy in Daytona, the Daily Mail reported, citing a law enforcement source. He has previously played both soccer and American football for teams in Australia, Sweden and Nebraska’s Peru State College.
In addition to endangering himself and others by going maskless, McInerney “threw an empty beverage can, which hit the head of Individual-1, who was a passenger on the above-referenced flight,” and “kicked the back of the passenger seat in front of him, disturbing Individual-2, another passenger,” the filing continues.
McInerney then allegedly walked from his economy-class seat to the first class section of the plane, where he “complained about his food to Individual-3, one of the flight attendants; and—in the process of being escorted back to his seat—pulled down his pants and underwear and exposed his buttocks to Individual-3 and passengers sitting nearby.”
Later during the eight-hour journey, the pilot—identified in the complaint as “Individual-4”—came out of the cockpit to speak with McInerney about his behavior.
“During the conversation, the defendant twice took off his cap, placed the cap on Individual-4’s head, and removed it from Individual-4’s head,” the complaint says. “The defendant also put one of his fists up close to Individual-4’s face and said: ‘Don’t touch me.’”
As the aircraft made its final approach to JFK, McInerney “disobeyed the orders of flight attendants,” standing up in the aisle and refusing to sit back down, according to the complaint, which says that “at least one passenger found the defendant’s conduct to be scary.”
“Because of the defendant’s numerous disturbances…flight crew members considered diverting the airplane to another airport, the complaint explains.
The FBI was alerted to “multiple disturbances” on McInerney’s flight while the plane was still in the air. When the flight landed at JFK, he was arrested by airport police.
In an email to The Daily Beast, Delta spokesperson Morgan Durrant confirmed the incident and said, “Delta has zero tolerance for unruly behavior at our airports and aboard our aircraft as nothing is more important that the safety of our people and our customers.”
Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, told The Daily Beast on Friday, “This is unacceptable. Full stop. Flight attendants are onboard for the safety and health of the passengers in our care. This type of behavior risks the safety of everyone inflight. It’s good news that the Department of Justice is moving swiftly to prosecute. We are proud of the Delta crew who represented the best of who we are as aviation’s first responders to keep everyone safe.”
Delta employees are mostly non-union, though Nelson continues to try to organize its workforce.
The FAA levied more than $1 million worth of fines to unruly passengers last year. About 70 percent of the incidents were related to masks. On Wednesday, an American Airlines flight headed from Miami to London turned around an hour into the trip because a “disruptive customer” refused to wear a face mask. Diverting a flight can mean extra costs to the airline of more than $60,000, according to court records from other, similar cases reviewed by The Daily Beast.
Last month, an “unruly” Delta passenger was taken into custody by FBI agents after an argument over facemasks got out of hand during a flight from Tampa, Florida to Atlanta.
“Situations like these are rare for the vast majority of our customers and Delta has zero tolerance for unruly behavior at our airports and aboard our aircraft,” the airline said in a statement at the time.
McInerney was arraigned in Brooklyn federal court, where he was formally charged with interference with flight crew members, and released on $20,000 bond. The offense carries a maximum penalty of up to 20 years in prison.
In an email to The Daily Beast, McInerney’s court-appointed lawyer, Benjamin Zev Yaster, declined to comment.
The highly contagious Omicron variant led President Joe Biden in December to extend the Transportation Security Administration’s mask mandate, requiring travelers to wear face masks on planes, trains, and buses through March 18.
“My plan I’m announcing today pulls no punches in the fight against COVID-19,” Biden announced.
Those who refuse to follow the rules can face fines of up to $3,000. The federal restrictions do not apply to passengers under the age of 2 and people with certain disabilities.