An Iowa family filed a federal lawsuit accusing American of failing to protect their young daughter from a sexual predator onboard a flight.
American Airlines charges a fee of $150 each way for the extra service of making sure unaccompanied minors reach their destination safely. For the rather substantial fee, the legacy carrier promises to “ensure your child is boarded onto the aircraft, introduced to the flight attendant, chaperoned during connections and released to the appropriate person at their destination.”
One Iowa family’s attorney tells the AP, however, that American failed to live up to its obligations, alleging that far from being looked after, the family’s underage daughter was sexually assaulted on the connecting leg of her flight home from New York in July.
According to a federal lawsuit filed in a Des Moines, the unaccompanied girl, whose name and age have been withheld, sent an urgent text message to her mother saying that she had woke to find that a stranger was sitting beside her and was inappropriately touching her with his hands and feet.
“I can’t move cause the seat belt sign is on and I want to get away,” the girl wrote in one text later handed over to the FBI. The girl’s mother reports that another panicked text from the girl began with the words, “Mommy, I’m scared.”
The lawsuit alleges the man also attempted to touch the girl’s genitals. She was able to inform a flight attendant about her predicament when the accused perpetrator, Pakistani national Muhammad Asif Chaudhry, 51, left the girl to go to the lavatory. The flight attendant found the girl a seat in the first class cabin and contacted authorities, who met the plane when it landed at O’Hare International Airport (ORD).
Chaudhry, who denies inappropriately touching the girl, was charged with offenses that include engaging in sexual contact with a victim between the ages of 12 and 16. According to the FBI, a cellphone photograph of Chaudhry’s leg draped across the girl’s lap was also recovered by authorities. Chaudhry plead not guilty to the allegations on Tuesday and was released on $100,000 bond.
The lawsuit filed in federal court in Des Moines accuses American Airlines of failing to seat the unaccompanied girt in an area of the cabin where she could be properly monitored.
“American cares deeply about our young passengers and is committed to providing a safe travel experience for them,” American spokesman Joshua Freed told FlyerTalk in an email statement. “We take these matters very seriously and have cooperated fully and immediately with law enforcement’s investigation of the suspect.”
[Photo: American Airlines]