A woman alleges that a man mαsturbated next to her on a United flight and the airline paid her $75 in “hush money” after she complained.
On Aug. 11, Mikaela Dixon, 21, was seated on a United flight from California to Illinois with her boyfriend when she noticed that the man next to her was touching himself. “I just spent hours next to a guy who was mαsturbating on this flight. My bf was asleep in the window seat, I’m in the middle, and the man is in the aisle. I had no idea what to do, I couldn’t get up because I didn’t want to go anywhere near him,” she tweeted about the incident.
tw: sex offense
i just spent hours next to a guy who was masturbating on this flight. my bf was asleep in the window seat, i’m in the middle, and the man is in the aisle. i had no idea what to do, i couldn’t get up bc i didn’t want to go anywhere near him….
— mik (@mik_dix) August 11, 2018
Dixon explained that she “sat there shaking” until the man stopped to use the restroom as the plane was landing. She reported the incident to the crew, but the man, realizing that he had been caught, “bolted” off the plane after landing. He was then detained by United’s security crew and later released.
i couldn’t call an attendant over because he’s in the aisle seat and would’ve heard me reporting him. i sat there shaking until he got up to go to the bathroom as we landed. attendants came over, moved my seat, at this point the guy came back and knew what was happening
— mik (@mik_dix) August 11, 2018
he started talking to other passengers nervously (they all heard what he did & ignored him). attendants asked me about him & he heard all of it bc he was in the seat behind me. the plane stopped at the gate & he BOLTED, tried so hard to get off but another guy blocked him
— mik (@mik_dix) August 11, 2018
“United airlines gave me $75 and told me I’m not allowed to know what happens to him unless I press charges against him,” Dixon tweeted. “Sooo I got my hush money and now I have to wonder forever whether this guy got away with it? F*** that.”
She later tweeted, “Basically, United lied about everything, let the man go after a few questions, and refused to involve law enforcement until I called the cops myself and forced them to file a report w the FBI.”
Dixon did not return Yahoo Lifestyle’s request for comment; however, she told BuzzFeed that the man, who appeared to be in his 50s, was “rubbing himself” with his hand in his pocket and “making noises and breathing heavily.”
According to BuzzFeed, the airline initially said it had called the police to meet the man at the gate, but later clarified that authorities had never been called, at the discretion of the flight crew and gate agent.
A representative from United sent the following statement to Yahoo Lifestyle: “The safety and well-being of our customers is our top priority. Our customer was immediately moved to a different seat when the flight attendants were made aware of the issue and the aircraft was met by our security personnel. We are investigating the matter to learn more about what happened. Although United Airlines, as a company, cannot press charges on our customers’ behalf, we will provide as much assistance as possible to law enforcement authorities should they investigate this matter further.”
Another incident occurred on a Delta flight — in July, a woman named Delany Eva Luh tweeted that while flying from Chicago to Los Angeles, she awoke to discover her seatmate slipping his hands down her leggings. When she alerted the flight crew, she was able to change seats, and it was suggested to her that the man would be arrested upon landing. However, the man, whose name she said was Will, was able to leave the plane and the airport.
Luh claimed that Delta offered her a $200 travel voucher and that police told her the airline didn’t follow protocol.
At the time, Delta sent the following statement to Yahoo Lifestyle: “The safety and security of our customers is our top priority and we do not tolerate harassment or assault of any kind. After deplaning, Ms. Luh first informed a Delta agent that she had been improperly touched on the leg by another passenger during her flight. Immediately upon learning this information, Delta reported the incident to local and federal law enforcement for their handling. We will continue to cooperate fully with the FBI in their investigation of this situation. We also reached out to Ms. Luh for more information on this incident.”
On Thursday, the New York Times reported on two other cases. A man named Nicholas Matthew Stevens, 37, was charged with one count of abusive sexual contact in a commercial airspace for assaulting a 22-year-old woman aboard an Alaskan Airlines flight from Anchorage to Seattle in March. He was allegedly trying to hold the victim’s hand and grabbing her breast and thigh.
The second case occurred in January aboard a Norwegian Airlines flight from London to Seattle. According to the Times, a woman claimed she spent “hours” fighting off a passenger after she awoke to find his hand inside her underwear and her hand on his penis. The flight crew found the woman curled up in the fetal position on the floor at the back of the plane. The man, 41-year-old Babak Rezapour of Van Nuys, Calif., was charged with abusive sexual contact aboard an aircraft, and he has denied the woman’s claims.
A rep from the trade group Airlines for America told the New York Times in a statement, “Our members take these matters seriously and do not tolerate harassment in any form. Carriers also have well-defined processes and procedures in place for crew members to report observed and/or reported criminal activity that occurs on board the aircraft to the F.A.A. and appropriate law enforcement authorities, who are responsible for recording such incidents and pursuing the arrest and prosecution of offenders.”
April statistics published by the FBI illustrated that in 2014, 38 cases of sexual assault aboard an airplane (a felony that carries possible jail time) were reported to the FBI; in 2017, there were 63 reported cases. “The attacks generally occur on long-haul flights when the cabin is dark,” reads the organization’s press release. “The victims are usually in middle or window seats, sleeping, and covered with a blanket or jacket. They report waking up to their seatmate’s hands inside their clothing or underwear.”
“Unfortunately, people don’t think things like this happen on airplanes,” Caryn Highley, a special agent said, in the press release. “There is a perception on an airplane that you’re in a bubble of safety.”
Flight attendants also experience sexual harassment — a survey released in May by the Association of Flight Attendants found that it’s happened to more than two-thirds of U.S. crew members. Even after the emergence of the #MeToo movement, 68 percent of attendants claim that airlines aren’t prioritizing workplace sexual harassment.
According to the FBI, passengers should stay alert while flying, avoiding mixing alcohol with medication; keep the armrest down if one’s seatmate is a stranger; and report anyone suspicious to the flight crew, asking specifically to record the suspect’s identity and report the incident.
“It doesn’t matter when you report an in-flight sexual assault — we take it seriously, and we will pursue it,” FBI Special Agent David Gates said in the FBI’s press release. “But after the fact, these cases are much more difficult to prove.”
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