In-Flight Passenger to Passenger Violence and Sexual Assault:
The Skies Aren’t as Friendly as They Once Were – or as Safe
Catastrophic commercial airplane crashes grab international headlines. Airplanes loaded with people left on tarmacs for hours because of a mechanical issue or weather problem are the stuff of media talking heads around the globe. What isn’t garnering the attention deserved is an alarming rise in the number of incidents of passenger on passenger harassment – and passenger on passenger violence. Additionally, there is also a startling spike in the number of people who are sexually assaulted on commercial aircraft as we move into the third decade of the 21st century.
Physical Assault and Violence on Commercial Aircraft
Time and again, commercial aircraft arguably become something of a pressure cooker as the emotions of some passengers run high for one reason or another. Unfortunately, into that mix alcoholic libations are sometimes blended, resulting in a combustible and even dangerous situation.
The net effect has been a marked increase in the number of passenger on passenger physical assaults over the past 12 months, a trend that doesn’t appear to be abating. These physical attacks are occurring not only onboard flights in progress but also in an airliner’s gate area and even in their private pre-flight lounges or clubs.
While an airliner is not 100% responsible for everything that goes on in an aircraft or at designated areas in an airport under its control, an airliner does have a specific legal responsibility to keep its passengers reasonably safe. This duty includes providing reasonable safety protections designed to protect against passenger on passenger assaults. Unfortunately, commercial airliners don’t always meet their legal responsibilities in this regard.
Sexual Assault on Commercial Aircraft
Now a child safety advocate and commentator for ABC News, Elizabeth Smart garnered international attention at the age of 14 when she was abducted from her Salt Lake City home and held captive for nine months. During the grim odyssey, Smart was sexually assaulted or raped on a daily basis. She eventually was rescued by law enforcement when two passersby recognized Smart with her captors on the street in Sandy, Utah, less than 20 miles from her family home.
Recently, Smart was on board a commercial airliner traveling to a speaking event. Smart told an interviewer with CBS This Morning travels frequently and never felt worried or threatened when on a commercial airplane. That all changed recently when she fell asleep while on a flight only to wake up with a man in the seat nest to her rubbing her inner thigh.
Another case involved a female passenger who was sexually assaulted by a 32-year old man while airborne on a commercial flight. The plane was diverted to the nearest airport when the incident was reported to flight crew and the perpetrator was arrested.
Sadly, these are only two of a growing number of incidents in which passengers have reported being sexually assaulted or victimized while in flight on commercial airliners. Indeed, while not widely reported in the media, the problem is considered so pervasive that the federal government established a 14-person taskforce that has been studying sexual misconduct and sexual assault on commercial aircraft. The taskforce is expected to make recommendations in the near future.
Recognizing the increase in passenger to passenger violence and sexual assault, some airlines have taken the step of changing their preflight briefings accordingly. For example, in late January 2020, Southwest Airlines updated its preflight passenger briefing to include: “Please report any unwelcome behavior to a flight attendant.”
Your Legal Rights on a Commercial Airplane
Commercial airliners have a legal duty to keep you reasonably safe when onboard their aircraft. This legal responsibility extends to keeping you reasonably safe from being victimized physically or sexually by another passenger on board a flight with you.
If you’ve been injured in some manner on a commercial aircraft, a Doan Law Firm aviation accident injury lawyer can explain your legal rights. A skilled, compassionate, experienced aviation accident injury lawyer from our firm can provide an understandable thorough evaluation of your case. You can reach our nationwide firm any time of the day or night by calling (800) 349-0000. There is no charge for an initial consultation with a Doan Law Firm lawyer. In addition, we never charge an attorney fee unless we win for you.