The Amazing Fight That Took Place Onboard Delta Flight 129 Thursday Night

The story of Thursday’s Delta flight DL129 from Seattle – Beijing flight that had to turn around is finally coming out. We knew there was an unruly passenger in business class. Now we know who it was — and just how insane his actions were.

Twenty three year old Joseph Hudek IV was sitting in Delta business class, seat 1D, went for the exit door and tried to open it about an hour after takeoff. Flight attendants tried to stop him. Then other passengers got involved in the altercation.

The man broke a wine bottle over one of the passengers. He punched several passengers as well.

He actually managed to get the exit door’s level turned halfway up (although he wouldn’t have managed to actually open the door). A door disarmed alarm went off in the cockpit.

A flight attendant smashed two wine bottle on Hudek, one even broke, but he wasn’t stopped. He declared, “Do you know who I am??” He was put in a headlock, but he got out of it, though was finally subdued by several passengers and tied back in his seat.

Non-revenue passengers, employees or friends and family on ‘buddy passes’, have higher expected standards of behavior than customers. This time it was a non-rev passenger who caused the diversion. I’d hate to be the employee who sponsored his travel..

Earlier reporting on the story had suggested that fighter jets scrambled to intercept the plane — a precaution against it having been taken over by terrorists, in case an order to shoot it down might be given — but that turns out to be false.

Lt. Commander Joe Nawrocki, a NORAD spokesman, clarified that jets were ready on the runway, but never took off. Air traffic control recordings from indicated that F-15s at Portland International Airport were preparing to meet the Delta flight, but never departed.

Hudek faces up to 20 years in prison and a fine up to $250,000. For those of you playing the Germany or Florida game this man was from Florida, natch.

It’s unclear whether or to what extent drugs, alcohol or other impairment were involved — or that the man simply realized he was about to spend over 11 hours in a Delta 767 to Asia.

Amazingly the flight wasn’t cancelled, just delayed, eventually taking off again from Seattle after midnight.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. “or that the man simply realized he was about to spend over 11 hours in a Delta 767 to Asia”

    Love that!

  2. How does non-rev on a buddy pass get business class seating? Serious question… seems like it should be used to upgrade any rev passenger w status first?

  3. Non Rev in business class. How many delta frequent flyers were in the back wishing they could have upgraded

  4. What’s Delta’s extra charge to upgrade to seats in the “restrain unruly passengers opening an exit” rows?

  5. Everyone seems to assume this person had malicious intent, but I find it unlikely.

    There are medical issues that can lead to bizarre behavior, as well as pre-existing mental conditions. Unexpected medicine reactions, or interactions from multiple meds, can add to this.

    It’s odd this happened in the air, but stuff like this happens all the time on the ground.

  6. DL buddy passes can be used for biz class when there are open seats. I don’t believe DL upgrades status passengers to biz class anyway (expect perhaps their top their?).

  7. Sounds like he took some sort of drugs while in the lav, because he was apparently fine until he went in there. Its scary how quickly some people can snap.

  8. Along with other tells, the DYKWIA comment suggests to me a mental episode, not an outsized ego with malicious intent

  9. What is alarming is that the presumably coked-up and definitely psycho turd was very close to succeeding his attempts to open the emergency exit despite the number of people attempting to prevent that from happening.

    The TSA is useless. All that is necessary to bring an airliner down would be two or three well-trained terrorists intent on opening emergency exits. As of this moment, bombs are obsolete.

  10. J.C., are you for real? It is impossible to open exit doors during flight due to the pressure difference. In fact, it is impossible to open exit doors once the cabin is pressurized while still on the ground.

    And even IF it were possible to open the exit doors during flight, it would not bring down a flight. But the terrorists would be sucked out of the plane, which would be a great outcome.

  11. This story is certainly interesting from a mental health perspective. Hudek seems to have “snapped.” It’s a good thing this doesn’t happen more often!

  12. @TommyLeo: Learn to read. In an article about the incident the flight attendant is quoted as saying he almost had the door open and only needed to move the handle a bit further.

    Without knowing the issue of pressure required to open a door while the cabin is pressurized, it seems reasonable to worry. Besides, if the risk was zero, why go ballistic when someone tries to open the door?

  13. J.C., I hope what you post here is satire.

    Physics and door design dictate that it is not possible to open the door when the cabin is pressurized. Google it. It’ll take you ten seconds.

    Flight attendants don’t necessarily know this fact. Any commercial pilot will.

    People go ballistic when someone tries to open the door because the perp is clearly trying to be a threat to safely. If you just allow someone try to open a cabin door — to no avail — it is unlikely that he will just go back to his seat. He is still a threat.

  14. Joseph Hudek the 4th, and the “do you know who I am” comment; an inbred 1%er perhaps?

  15. “Do you know who I am??”

    Joseph Hudek IV people are wondering what your relative who gave you a buddy pass is thinking in regards to that question. Also whether they knew your skull could handle multiple wine bottles being cracked over it.

  16. Oh how times have changed. I was on a flight to Hawaii around the year 2000, and someone got drunk and tried to open the door at altitude. I was flying coach and was in the galley chatting with flight attendants, and they were giving me booze so I stuck around chatting for awhile. They mentioned that someone had tried to open the exit earlier in the flight. Crew found it humorous, let the guy tire himself out, and then he went back to his seat.

  17. One of the articles on this says mom works at Delta. I’d be curious to hear what her position is and if that’s related to the DYKWIA comment.

  18. @TommyLeo: While you are right about physics and door design making it virtually impossible to open the door of a pressurized cabin, a careful and skilled reader would see where the article implied otherwise.

    That a perp will not go back to their seat when they struggle to open the door and fail is only your theory. Others seem to think he would. Many would be inclined to let a drug-crazed psycho wear himself out a bit before having a free-for-all involving wine bottles smashed over the heads of people.

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