A woman has said that she was sexually harassed by an intoxicated passenger on a United Airlines flight. In addition, she also said that flight attendants on the flight continued to serve the passenger alcoholic beverages even after she brought the passenger's behavior to their attention.
Back in March, 47-year-old Jennifer Rafieyan and her 12-year-old daughter were on a United flight that was traveling from Newark, New Jersey, to Phoenix, reports The Huffington Post. Flight attendants seated a 64-year-old intoxicated man next to them. According to Rafieyan, he was drunk enough that he had to be guided onto the plane by flight attendants.
Rafieyan said that the man sexually harassed her by touching her inappropriately throughout the first hour of the flight. In addition, his harassment included writing "PASIONAT NITE XX" on a notebook Rafieyan was using. She said that she did not want to leave her seat, however, because she did not want to leave her daughter sitting alone next to the man.
At one point, her daughter got up to go to the bathroom, and Rafieyan reportedly used the opportunity to complain to the flight attendants. While they apologized for seating her and her daughter next to the man, they did not do anything to remedy the situation. According to Rafieyan, the man was served three whiskeys and a small wine bottle after she made her complaint.
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Throughout the rest of the flight, the intoxicated passenger accused others on the plane of stealing his passport and refused to sit down when told to do so. He only calmed down when the crew threatened to divert the flight.
Rafieyan issued an official complaint to United Airlines on March 29.
"I would like to know what policies are in place that allow this to happen," she said, according to The Huffington Post. "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."
Rafieyan's assertions about intoxicated passengers are indeed correct. According to Traveler's United, flight crews are prohibited by the FAA from allowing obviously intoxicated passengers from boarding flights. They are also not permitted to continue serving drinks to passengers who become intoxicated during a flight.
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In addition, the contracts of carriage for many large airlines -- including United, American, Delta, and Southwest -- prohibit the boarding of passengers "who appear to be intoxicated or under the influence of drugs to the degree that they could endanger other passengers or crew members," according to USA Today.
"I am sorry for your family’s disappointing and uncomfortable flight to Phoenix," a customer service representative wrote in response to Rafieyan's complaint, according to The Huffington Post. "As a gesture of goodwill, a separate email with four electronic travel certificates will arrive soon to make amends."
Rafieyan was dissatisfied with the response, claiming that United did not address her concerns. She has since reported the incident to the FAA and Department of Transportation. The Department of Transportation has added Rafieyan's experience to its national database on sexual assault and encouraged her to report the incident to the FBI (who is responsible for handling instances of sexual assaults on planes) as well.
"We sincerely apologize to Ms. Rafieyan and her family for their experience," said a United spokeswoman on April 12, according to The Huffington Post. "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."