molested on flight

Old Jan 16, 14, 2:30 pm
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molested on flight

Hello all- Your advice would be greatly appreciated. Long time flyertalk reader, not poster.

I was on UA930 SFO - LHR on the 11th. Seated in a row of 3 in the window seat. Lights out for the night I fell into a sound sleep. With around 4 hours left in the flight, I was awakened by a drunk man with his hands all over my upper thighs saying how horny he was. With the assistance of the man seated in the aisle I was able to exit the row and reported to a steward. Two stewards removed the drunk to another location on the plane and I returned to my seat.

Needless to say this was quite a shock.

A woman attendant later came to my seat and asked me to accompany her to the back of the plane where I was expecting some sort of sympathy. I was still quite shaken. Not at all what she wanted. She wanted me to speak to the assailant and hear his apology!
I refused as seeing him was the last thing I would want, and seriously what kind of words would ever take away such a horrific experience.

So back to my seat and after awhile that same woman attendant returned. We're still in the darkened cabin. She handed me a paper napkin and requested I write my name, seat number and a statement that I wouldn't take the matter further. SERIOUSLY??! I'm still shaking in my seat and this is the kind of comfort offered? I only provided my name and seat.

Throughout all this I never raised my voice or made any demands. I was just so shaken I didn't know what to do or say or how to even react. That was the last I heard from anyone on that flight.

Later that night, I scoured the United website who/how to report this incident. Best match I could find was an email to "customer care".

I received a return email stating they'd get back to me in 10 - 14 days.

I did receive an email from a claims agent this afternoon requesting a call back, which I did. Her main objective was to discover what I wanted United to do. I just don't want anyone else to go through this experience and be treated in such a cold and callous manner. She said she needed time to investigate and we'll talk tomorrow. She didn't have much in her perview but said they'd look into their procedures how to better improve their responses.

So here I am with a return flight on the 25th. I am dreading getting back on a plane.

What would you do? Please advise -
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Old Jan 16, 14, 3:22 pm
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I would have demanded that they have the police waiting on arrival and filed a report
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Old Jan 16, 14, 3:52 pm
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I would escalate as high as possible with a lawyer NOW.
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Old Jan 16, 14, 6:42 pm
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Originally Posted by Miranda200 View Post
Hello all- Your advice would be greatly appreciated. Long time flyertalk reader, not poster.

I was on UA930 SFO - LHR on the 11th. Seated in a row of 3 in the window seat. Lights out for the night I fell into a sound sleep. With around 4 hours left in the flight, I was awakened by a drunk man with his hands all over my upper thighs saying how horny he was. With the assistance of the man seated in the aisle I was able to exit the row and reported to a steward. Two stewards removed the drunk to another location on the plane and I returned to my seat.

Needless to say this was quite a shock.

A woman attendant later came to my seat and asked me to accompany her to the back of the plane where I was expecting some sort of sympathy. I was still quite shaken. Not at all what she wanted. She wanted me to speak to the assailant and hear his apology!
I refused as seeing him was the last thing I would want, and seriously what kind of words would ever take away such a horrific experience.

So back to my seat and after awhile that same woman attendant returned. We're still in the darkened cabin. She handed me a paper napkin and requested I write my name, seat number and a statement that I wouldn't take the matter further. SERIOUSLY??! I'm still shaking in my seat and this is the kind of comfort offered? I only provided my name and seat.

Throughout all this I never raised my voice or made any demands. I was just so shaken I didn't know what to do or say or how to even react. That was the last I heard from anyone on that flight.

Later that night, I scoured the United website who/how to report this incident. Best match I could find was an email to "customer care".

I received a return email stating they'd get back to me in 10 - 14 days.

I did receive an email from a claims agent this afternoon requesting a call back, which I did. Her main objective was to discover what I wanted United to do. I just don't want anyone else to go through this experience and be treated in such a cold and callous manner. She said she needed time to investigate and we'll talk tomorrow. She didn't have much in her perview but said they'd look into their procedures how to better improve their responses.

So here I am with a return flight on the 25th. I am dreading getting back on a plane.

What would you do? Please advise -
This is a nightmare.

OK, to be constructive, you need to empower yourself by means other than UA.

Go now to your local UK police station and file a report.

UA are not the police; cannot investigate/take action; have no legal role in enforcement against the individual, although they can deal with their crew actions/non-actions. However, they will have the ID info and details of the other pax b/c you can provide seat info, and they are going to have to share those with LE when a formal complaint is investigated.

I suggest to you and all female travelers that they rehearse what they will do under these circumstances - i.e. know what your point of legal contact will be at the airport, how the national police at your destination will handle these type of complaints, and immediately make them aware of what happened. Doing this prior to immigration may even have accomplished an apprehension prior to baggage claim retrieval or immigration clearance, but it's evidently too late now.

If this were happening to a female friend/relative, I'd point her at the police who are very visible at LHR, even along the terminal corridors prior to immigration, given the UK obsession with policing airports and everything, and suggest she immediately state she wants to file a formal report of sexual assault on board.

UK courts take a very dim view of criminal acts onboard aircraft (e.g. air rage events on TATL flights).

Next up, email [email protected] with this information. He will understand how serious this is, and although UA cannot act against the individual, they can be put on alert that this is going to be followed up and that UA's CSR actions need to be investigated. This is a mess - and from the account above, UA's FA and possibly corporate actions in the event are worthy of investigation.

The part about the FA directing you to sign a declaration not to take things further is almost worse than the original assault. But such declaration has ZERO legal standing anyway, so don't worry about it now.

It is a great shock to the system when you are violated (by sexual assault; robbery; mugging; whatever) and quite often when you most need psychic assistance you meet the kind of non-response or sweep-it-away you describe. This is also shocking at the time. I know about this, I recall being told condescendingly after being assaulted in a bar in Scotland "Oh, you're English" - by the cops, as if that had any relevance or legal standing to the actual crime, or could excuse it! Unbelievable!

You must rely on yourself. You will be the agent to address this, using the formal mechanisms. Please do not walk away from this. You will not feel good about yourself, and the perp may well continue his actions at a later stage.

Last edited by redtailshark; Jan 16, 14 at 6:43 pm Reason: Correction to Jeff's email
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Old Jan 17, 14, 4:06 am
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If a man did that to you on the ground you'd report it wouldn't you. Same should appl in the air.

I was annoyed at them just moving the man. So he could then do that to someone else.

I'm sorry that happened to you. What bugs me is folks that say what they'd do in that situation. They'd have no idea what you'd do until they are in that exact situation.
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Old Jan 17, 14, 4:08 am
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Erm, call the police? I cannot understand why you wouldn't.
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Old Jan 17, 14, 9:10 am
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OP, first off how horriffic for you...both in the event and in your subsequent treatment by the FA. Did you happen to get the FA's name? Because I would definitely be mentioning that in my complaint.

Redtailshark gave some excellent advice.

Speaking for myself I honestly don't know how I would have reacted in the same circumstances. Sometimes when things like this happen, things so far out of what you expect, you draw a blank.

That said, I'm really good with coming up with a response AFTER the fact, when it won't do me any good. But I'm ready if there's a next time.

In redtailshark's excellent post they wrote:
I suggest to you and all female travelers that they rehearse what they will do under these circumstances - i.e. know what your point of legal contact will be at the airport, how the national police at your destination will handle these type of complaints, and immediately make them aware of what happened.
OP, I know that you're dreading your return flight, and while it's highly unlikely that something like this will happen again you can now plan out what you will do IF it does.
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Old Jan 18, 14, 7:09 pm
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Sorry that you had this horrible experience. I, too, probably would have had "the deer in the headlights - frozen" reaction. And a 'what the ***?" reaction to the FA's request to meet the drunk for an apology AND the written statement of 'no further action' to be taken.

I like redtailshark's advice.

You have our support. Do what you feel most comfortable with doing.
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Old Jan 18, 14, 8:38 pm
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I'm horrified by your experience and even more by the FA's callous treatment. I had a not as bad yet similar experience many years ago, again with the purser simply not taking the situation seriously. I was encouraged to write to Glen Tilton, then president of United. I did so. I received a call from someone senior in customer service. I think he only took it seriously after I asked what he would do if it had been his mother, his wife, his sister, his daughter who a strange man was pawing. I posted what UA did for me, though I was seeking nothing. What was much more important (and I stated further on in the thread) was that this was sent to the onboard side of United to be used in training.

I hope that you do pursue this further. People get drunk, people behave inappropriately, and cabin staff need to be your advocate should it happen. Why in heaven's name was the FA attempting to help the man who accosted you?!
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Old Jan 18, 14, 9:08 pm
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Originally Posted by Miranda200 View Post
A woman attendant later came to my seat and asked me to accompany her to the back of the plane where I was expecting some sort of sympathy. I was still quite shaken. Not at all what she wanted. She wanted me to speak to the assailant and hear his apology!
That's not a normal or appropriate response by the FA, and it has me wondering exactly what the relationship between the FA and the assailant might be. Nor was her demand that you write what would in intent (but not law) be a "Get Out of Jail Free" card for the guy.

I'd ask my lawyer, the police and UA exactly what the connection between those two was.

Sorry about your horrible experience.
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Old Jan 18, 14, 9:51 pm
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Such a horrible situation to experience.

Ditto what everyone else said. And while you've written down what happened here, you should also sit down and write out as much as you can recall (painful as it may be) of the incident.

I'd start with everything from the time you boarded the plane, the incident, and after the incident.

Try to write down facts and observances only and leave out opinions and speculations.

As CDTraveler mentioned, I too have questions about why the FA was asking you to sign something. Given that they have a manifest, they already have your seat number and name.

A couple of questions that you may be asked:

1) Was the gentleman who had too much to drink in the middle seat seated next to you the entire time?

2) If so, do you recall how many drinks the FAs (especially the female FA who tried to get you to sign the statement) served him?

3) If not, do recall seeing him prior to the incident?
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Old Jan 18, 14, 9:55 pm
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Miranda200 - I'm very sorry to hear about your experience. I think redtailshark's practical advice looks very helpful for dealing with getting redress for this incident. Before you go to the police station, you also might want to write out some notes about your recollection of the situation, as much as you can remember. Memories fade and it's helpful to have notes made as soon as possible.

You also mentioned that you are anxious about the return trip. I would recommend that you contact a sexual assault counselling centre, either in the UK (where you are now) or in your hometown, or both. Counsellors can help you deal with the anger and anxiety you are feeling now. They also may be able to help you with some practical things - e.g. helping you interact with the police to make a complaint, while you're in the UK. They may be able to help walk you through a visualization of your trip home - from hotel to airport to flight to safe arrival - a visualization where you are safe and unharmed - and that could make it easier for you to make the trip comfortably.

One more thing - I'm not familiar with all of what US consular officials can and cannot do, but I know they sometimes can be great at helping with practical matters in times of crisis for a citizen travelling abroad. It is possible that they might be able to help you deal with some aspects of your return trip. For example, if United isn't responsive in the next couple of days, they might be able help or point you to someone who could help.

I wish you well - and please come back to the forum if you need more support or advice.
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Old Jan 20, 14, 11:56 pm
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redtailshark -
A million thank you's for this reply. You are amazing. So clear and concise you'll never know what a huge source of comfort your words provided. Truly I cannot thank you enough. I was alone in my hotel when I read this the day you posted (in UK on business) and you put everything in perspective.

Where we're at right now: loads of back and forth with a claims agent that "couldn't do anything" (United assigned the claims agent as their only avenue for customer support!) Email to Jeff Smizek as you directed seems to be getting some better customer service attention. As a silver I'd upgraded my return flight at time of booking with miles, but was of course waitlisted till day of travel if there happened to be anything left. This morning the upgrade went through.

I am currently in France completing my trip and will pursue the legal end with UK police upon my return.

Once again - thank you for taking the time to help a stranger. You're the best.
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Old Jan 21, 14, 12:00 am
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Annalisa - You are correct - we do not know what to do till we've been there. As someone else suggested - I'm rehearsed now. There may be blood if someone even looks at me wrong. I think we're already in a sheep kind of frame of mind on these crowded flights, as we're pressed so close to strangers as it is.
Thank you for your reply - yes if I was on the ground no question police action, so yes it is the same on a flight.
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Old Jan 21, 14, 7:14 am
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Originally Posted by Miranda200 View Post
As someone else suggested - I'm rehearsed now. There may be blood if someone even looks at me wrong. I think we're already in a sheep kind of frame of mind on these crowded flights, as we're pressed so close to strangers as it is.
Keeping you in my thoughts and wishing you a safe flight home. Even sheep have hoofs and horns to defend themselves.
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