A recent criminal filing shows the golden age of air travel is definitely over

30,000 feet is no place for a drunken meltdown.
30,000 feet is no place for a drunken meltdown.
Image: REUTERS/Suzanne Plunkett
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

If you spot Wei Sing Goh on your next flight, you might want to hide the liquor.

On Aug. 13, Goh boarded a Japan Airlines flight headed to San Diego, California from Tokyo’s Narita airport, according to a criminal complaint filed last month in federal court. There were 182 passengers on board, and 11 crew. Roughly an hour into the flight, the document explains, Goh drank his first mini bottle of wine. He followed that one with six more, both red and white.

About four hours later—which would put the aircraft somewhere over the Pacific Ocean—Goh “became agitated and unruly,” getting out of his seat in coach and heading to the business class cabin, says the complaint. Members of the flight crew tried to convince Goh to sit down, but he didn’t listen, insisting there was someone with a gun onboard who was after him and that he needed a parachute to jump out of the plane and escape.

While crew members tried to block Goh from accessing the aircraft door, he began to shout curses and racial slurs at people. Goh stepped up his antics with “inappropriate sexualized comments to a female flight crew member,” and “inappropriately touched” another. His behavior became so aggressive that flight attendants moved the passengers near Goh to other seats, the complaint explains.

“[O]n one occasion he got so close to a flight crew member that he touched her nose,” it says.

Several verbal warnings later, the pilot emerged from the cockpit with a final written one. Per JAL policy, Goh was given a copy of the written warning, which was also read aloud to him. If he failed to comply with the instructions of the flight crew, they would be forced to contact authorities.

It didn’t work, but the crew continued their valiant attempt to maintain order.

“In an effort to get him to remain calm, flight crew members served Goh water and orange juice and provided him a menu from which he could order food,” the complaint goes on. Goh threw the juice at a man sitting behind him. When the man glanced down at his shirt to see what it was, Goh “struck [him] in the head with a crumpled cup.”

Seven hours had now gone by. With another three hours to go, Goh once again left his seat and headed for business class. But the chief cabin attendant, who is identified in the complaint only by the initials “A.O.”, had apparently had enough. A.O. “followed Japan Airlines Policy and enlisted the help of three passengers to restrain Goh,” attempting using flex cuffs. However, Goh wriggled free and struck a crew member. It took five people to finally get the cuffs on Goh, after which the team strapped him down with seat belt extenders.

A section of the Japan Airlines criminal complaint.
A section of the Japan Airlines criminal complaint.

The captain contacted the JAL operations center to discuss diverting to San Francisco. But standard landing procedure requires two pilots at the controls. Since two of the three were tied up with Goh, they continued on.

At least one crew member was assigned to stand watch over Goh for the remainder of the 10.5-hour flight, which disrupted the meal service and “reduced the flight crew’s ability to perform safety checks and other essential tasks in preparation for landing.”

The flight finally touched down in San Diego, and FBI agents took Goh into custody. Goh told the agents he had been drinking heavily, and said he recalled thinking that someone was out to get him.

“Goh stated he had no other recollection of the events described above,” the complaint concludes. “He apologized for his actions.”

“Air rage” incidents have gone up in recent years, with one disruptive episode for every 1,053 flights, according to figures from the International Air Transport Association. That’s up from one incident for every 1,424 flights a year earlier. Alcohol plays a large role in many of these events, but airlines may be reluctant to forego the extra revenue it generates. And stopping the sale of liquor in cabins obviously can’t stop passengers tweaked out on meth from coming aboard. “Any time you get a whole bunch of humanity packed in together there’s opportunity for a conflict,” one flight attendant told the Washington Post.

Goh, a Malaysian national who was attending San Diego’s Mesa College, had his student visa revoked upon his arrest. He was charged with violating 49 U.S.C. § 46504—Interference with Flight Crew Members and Attendants—and is due back in court Oct. 15. If convicted, Goh faces a $35,000 fine and up to 20 years in prison.