In the wake of the United Airlines incident in which a passenger was forcibly removed from a plane, suffering injuries, a new serious claim against the airline is surfacing.
Jennifer Rafieyan told The Huffington Post on Wednesday that while on a flight with her 12-year-old daughter last month from Newark, New Jersey to Phoenix, Arizona, she was repeatedly groped by "a visibly drunk man" and received no help from the flight attendants. Furthermore, when she emailed United, she called their response "unacceptable."
The alleged incident
Rafieyan told The Huffington Post that the man boarded the plane drunk ("the attendant had to guide him by his hips, Rafieyan recalled") and the surrounding flight attendants made comments like "this is going to be an interesting flight" and "let me know if you need anything. I mean it."
The Federal Aviation Administration's 2016 safety rules state "the boarding of a passenger who appears to be intoxicated is a violation of Title 14 of the Code of Federal Regulations (14 CFR)" so it is unclear how he was even allowed to board. Code 121.575 Alcoholic beverages also states "no certificate holder may serve any alcoholic beverage to any person aboard any of its aircraft who -(1) Appears to be intoxicated."
However, Rafieyan claims that the flight attendants continued to serve the intoxicated man "three more whiskey drinks and a small wine bottle."
During this five hour flight, Rafieyan alleges "the 64-year-old repeatedly groped her and sexually harassed her. He rubbed her legs, grabbed her knee, kissed her hands, put his head on her shoulder and snatched her pen and notepad to add 'PASIONAT NITE XX' to the to-do list she was writing."
She was concerned for not only herself, but for her daughter. When her daughter got up to use the restroom, Rafieyan says she asked for help from a flight attendant, to which their response was, "‘I’m so sorry. We felt really bad putting him next to you, but there was nothing we could do. He was doing the same kind of stuff to the other flight attendant."
She emailed United on Mar. 29 with an official complaint.
In the email she wrote "I would like to know what policies are in place that allow this to happen. FAA regulations prevent the boarding of an intoxicated person and selling alcohol to him. The [flight attendants] knowingly put a drunk person who had sexually harassed the [flight attendant] next to me and my daughter. United jeopardized the safety of everyone on board."
United's email response from a representative to Rafieyan, which she shared with The Huffington Post, was to send her "four $100 travel vouchers" along with "I am sorry for your family’s disappointing and uncomfortable flight to Phoenix. As a gesture of goodwill, a separate email with four electronic travel certificates will arrive soon to make amends." But there was no mention of the alleged sexual harassment.
Rafieyan emailed back with "I’m sorry but I find this unacceptable. If you review the complaint, you will note that I did not ask for any monetary reimbursement but instead answers ... I feel devalued as a human being."
She further contacted the Federal Aviation Administration who said they would "add the incident to its national sexual assault database" and told her to also contact the FBI. "It seems like [United] have their priorities totally warped," she told The Huffington Post.
ATTN: contacted United via email for a comment. Here is what they told us.
"We take this allegation very seriously, and our team is looking into what happened. I will follow up with you as soon as I have all of the facts."
ATTN: will update this story as we get more information.
Update: 4/12 4:35 p.m. PST: We have received a statement from United Airlines via email:
"We sincerely apologize to Ms. Rafieyan and her family for their experience. We are reviewing the way that this situation was handled on board, and how our customer care team responded. We will follow up with Ms. Rafieyan to apologize again, and discuss how we could have handled this situation better."
[H/T The Huffington Post]