Following a 13-hour delay of the easyJet flight 2122 from Nice to Luton airport, the violent encounter took place after a British male passenger allegedly complained about the delay and pushed an airport employee, to which he retaliated with a punch.
EasyJet says the airport employee does not work for the airline, but is an employee of Nice airport’s special assistance provider Samsic, which is contracted to provide workers to help to disabled passengers, including those using wheelchairs - The Guardian reports.
The Daily Mail reports that CCTV cameras found that the British passenger pushed his hand into the French employees face before the punch was thrown.
According to video footage, the British passenger was swearing loudly and complaining about the delay, and attempted to take a picture of the airport worker with his smartphone.
The French worker, who was accused by other passengers of 'smiling' about the ordeal, allegedly knocked the smartphone out of his hand. The British man then reacted by slapping him around the head, to which the airline worker retaliated with a punch.
There are strict laws against photographing officials at airports in France.
A passenger who witnessed and photographed the outbreak, Arabella Arkwright, 49, told CNN her husband restrained the worker while they waited for police to arrive. The passenger was taken away with the infant, but was later let back on the flight. She was one of the passengers that accused the Frenchman of smirking and showing "no interest or concern for the family."
The airline said in a statement: "EasyJet is very concerned to see this picture and can confirm the person in the photo is not an easyJet member of staff and they do not work for easyJet's ground handling agents in Nice.
"We are urgently taking this up with Nice Airport and their special assistance provider Samsic who we understand the person photographed works for."
Police in Nice confirmed that they were investigating the incident and said the version offered by Arkwright was in dispute, and that both men faced criminal charges if found guilty of assault.
Jean-François Guitard, a Director at Nice airport told CNN: "We had a serious problem with someone of staff from our subcontractor Samsic.” He said that the airport had been in contact with Samsic, who told them the employee had been suspended. "Clearly it is a misconduct situation. We apologise strongly about this situation regarding this passenger. There is no reason for a staff member to fight a passenger," Guitard said.
The airline apologised for the delay to the flight which was due to a “technical issue with the aircraft”.
“The safety and wellbeing of our passengers and crew is always easyJet’s highest priority,” the airline said. “EasyJet sincerely apologises for the delay and thanks passengers for their patience.”
Issues such as this one demonstrates why HR must keep an unbiased perspective when dealing with workplace conflicts. No matter how solid any evidence may appear, its HR’s role to mediate and get to the bottom of problems without appearing to take sides.