Jennifer Rafieyan says she was groped by a drunken man on a United Airlines plane in the presence of her 12-year-old daughter during a flight from Newark, New Jersey, to Phoenix in March.
The visibly drunk man was assisted by a flight attendant into the seat next to Rafieyan, she told The Huffington Post
The 47-year-old mother recalled that two attendants warned her about the 64-year-old intoxicated fellow: "[One attendant] made some comment to me like, 'This is going to be an interesting flight,' and looked at him. And then the other flight attendant came up and said, 'Let me know if you need anything. I mean it' -- and she looked at him."
According to the Federal Aviation Administration it is illegal to seat a passenger who seems drunk: "The boarding of a passenger who appears to be intoxicated is a violation of Title 14 of the Code of Federal Regulations (14 CFR)."
Rafieyan recalled that the drunk man kissed her hands, touched her legs and knee, placed his head on her shoulder, and wrote "PASIONAT NITE XX" on a to-do list she was writing.
"That really grossed me out," Rafieyan recalled. "My daughter was right there. I don’t react well. I freeze. When a man is inappropriate with me, I usually just run from it and maybe tell somebody. But I felt trapped. I couldn’t leave the seat because I didn’t trust him near my daughter."
Rafieyan said she did report the man to a flight attendant who told her: "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."
Rafieyan said that after her complaint, a flight attendant served the drunk man alcohol multiple times.
After the intoxicated man acted obnoxious, made false accusations against other people, and refused to sit down, a flight attendant warned him that the plane would land early because of his actions, Rafieyan recalled.
She wrote United Airlines about the incident on March 29:
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.
A United Airlines representative sent Rafieyan four $100 travel vouchers, but refused to acknowledge the alleged sexual assault: "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."
Rafieyan responded via email: "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."
Rafieyan reported the incident to the Department of Transportation and FAA. She also reported the man's name to the FBI, which handles sexual assaults on planes.
A United Airlines spokeswoman told The Huffington Post on April 12: "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."
United Airlines recently made news after it banned two girls from boarding because they wore leggings, and called the police to drag a customer off a flight at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport because he refused to give up his seat after the airline overbooked the plane.
"It seems like they have their priorities totally warped," Rafieyan stated.