A 65-year-old urologist, born in India but living in the United States for 38 years now, was flying from his home in Missouri to a medical convention in Las Vegas on June 26th, 2008. Did you notice that “born in India” detail? Apparently his attempts to go to the bathroom angered and frightened a flight attendant, who wouldn’t tell Dr. Sivaprasad Madduri why he couldn’t use the lavatory (the pilot was using it) and who wouldn’t listen to Dr. Madduri’s explanation that he was taking a medicine that acts as a diuretic. When the plane landed he was arrested, spent the night in jail, and was told the next day to plead guilty and pay $2500 if he wanted a quick resolution.
Southwest has since told Dr. Madduri, “We don’t want this experience to affect your feelings about flying with us in the future,” and they’ve offered him a $100 voucher. It turns out the “apology” was meant for the other passengers, and was in fact about Dr. Madduri.
Ironically, even before he filed his complaint with the Southwest Airlines officials, he got a letter from Frederick Taylor Jr, senior manager at the airline’s customer service communications, offering a $100 voucher for a future flight.
“Sometimes, an explanation for the reason why things happen is not always possible, and the bizarre behaviour of the individual during your June 26 flight to Las Vegas supports this point,” Taylor said in a letter accompanying the voucher. “While I am unable to explain the circumstances surrounding the disruption, I think it is important to offer my heartfelt apologies for any concerns you may have had as a result of this event”.
“Naturally, we don’t want this experience to affect your feelings about flying with us in the future, or for it to be your last recollection of traveling with our company. In fact we would consider it a privilege if you gave us another opportunity to provide you with better memories.”
Here’s Dr. Madduri’s story in his own words:
[I am] a physician from India who immigrated to the United States 38 years ago and [has] been in private practice in South East Missouri for more than a quarter century.
On June 26, 2008, I traveled from St Louis to Las Vegas to attend AAPI annual convention by Southwest flight 1226. Two hours into the flight, I tried to go to the bathroom ( I take a blood pressure medicine with diuretic that makes one ‘go’ more often). As I was sitting in row six, I walked to the front lavatory. The flight attendant, named Lora Lee Minton, abruptly stopped me and essentially shouted at me, “Go back! This bath room is occupied, and you cannot stand here.”
Shocked and dumbfounded at this unfriendly behavior, I went back and sat in my seat. Two minutes later, I saw the lavatory door opening and I got up and walked towards the bath room again. The same flight attendant (Lora Lee Minton) screamed at me, “I told you not to go to that bathroom,” and started pushing me into my seat. I was totally confused at this erratic behavior, and told her that I had been taking medicine and I had to go to the toilet. I even tried to walk past Ms.Minton as I was very uncomfortable.
“I told you not to go,” she pushed me into my seat! I was lost. I flew many times but had never experienced a rude and unfriendly behavior like this. Confused and not knowing what to do, I went back and sat in my seat. I saw the pilot came out of the lavatory, walked into the cockpit and closed the door behind him. Later I could use the bathroom.
The sequence of events that followed were more frightening and beyond the scope of any one’s imagination. As the plane landed in Las Vegas , I was escorted by two police officers and was handed over to the FBI. The FBI interrogated me at length and for the first time, I was told that the flight attendant, Ms.Lora Lee Minton, reported that I was causing ‘disturbance’ during the flight. I was also told that when the pilot is out of the cockpit, no one is supposed get up from their seat, till the pilot goes back to his seat. This apparently is a federal law being enforced since 9/11 and no one ever told me, nor was it announced during the flight.
That night I was taken through federal centers for further investigation. I was hand-cuffed, finger printed and was ‘processed’ as a common criminal. I was told repeatedly that my background was checked and I had no criminal record. Even after checking my back ground and even after confirming it by calling my family members (Our two children that live in St Louis and Houston, Texas ) and my professional partner (urologist from Poplar Bluff, Missouri ), I still had to go through the harassment. I was dragged through Federal court buildings that night with hand and ankle cuffs, left in cells for hours before I was interrogated and was threatened repeatedly with abusive language: ‘Shut up,’ ‘I am going to kick your ass,’ to name a few. Finally I was taken to a federal detention center in Las Vegas and was ushered into a large jail cell! I spent the night in jail with 43 prisoners – most of them drug dealers and picked up at street fights!
The next day I went through processing in a federal court building and presented in front of a Federal Judge. The public defender told me that my ‘case’ was decided and I would be released if I pleaded guilty and paid a fine of $2,500. He also told me that I could refuse to plead guilty, contest the judgment and even could win, but could be taking a long time, cost more and might result in multiple trips to Las Vegas.
Exhausted, depressed and completely deflated, I agreed to what ever the public defender suggested and got out after 24 hours of ‘living hell’.
I endured the most horrifying and traumatic 24-hours of my life for a crime I sincerely believe I did not commit. A simple statement by the flight attendant (Lora Lee Minton) in normal tone of voice that I was not supposed to wait in front of the toilet when it was occupied by the pilot, would have saved the ghastly ordeal.
I was told repeatedly by the prison guards, some of the FBI officials (not all of them were rude), the prison inmates who heard my story that the reason I was targeted was because of my skin color (brown) and ethnic background (South Asian, Indian).
When I returned home, I did not feel like lying flat and take the abuse, more so the incident involved not only me but an entire race and ethnic group. I sent my story to local, state and national news papers including all the major Indian news publications. The response was overwhelming: the news papers were very receptive; I received numerous e-mails, letters, phone-calls, sympathy and supportive cards; every one wanted me to ‘fight-it-out’ and ‘not to keep quite and do nothing.’
I did send my story to ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) of Missouri and Nevada , yet I haven’t heard from them yet, though I was told that my experience had merit. I contacted attorneys locally as well as in St Louis and was told that they were looking for proper attorneys that specialize in civil liberties cases; I was told by some that I should not have pleaded guilty and should find eye-witnesses that would testify in my favor.
During 30 years of my stay in America , I never felt so threatened nor my rights so violated as I did that fateful night. ‘You are not guilty until proven otherwise’, the anthem we are made to believe all the time was turned out to be not true; I was guilty until prove my self innocent. I was treated like a guilty person and was never given a chance even to tell my side of the story. Even after the incidence, I am finding it difficult to prove my innocence. I want Southwest Air Lines to realize their mistake and drop charges against me. I did contact Southwest airlines and was informed that they were standing by their stewardess and the issue had no racial profile or bias.
(Thanks to Ashish!)