The incident occurred last summer on board a United flight from Phoenix to Newark. The woman, who did not know her assailant when she sat next to him on the plane, says she fell asleep with a jacket across her lap.
She later woke up to find the man’s hands under her shirt and shorts while groping her. She told police the man then asked her for a kiss.
The passenger immediately alerted the flight crew about the assault and the man was taken into custody when the plane landed. He did not deny that he had touched the woman, but told authorities that she had forced his hand between her legs. However, a witness seated near the two gave a statement that the woman had been asleep at the time.
The case went to trial last week in federal court in Newark.
“I was completely humiliated,” the female passenger testified on the stand. “I was absolutely freaking out. I wanted to go hide somewhere.”
She said that she was so shaken by the incident that she was unable to return to work for around two months afterward.
In court, a witness testified that the man was “spooning” the female passenger while she slept.
“It appeared as though they were a couple,” recalled the witness. “I was pretty shocked to see what position they were in.”
Though the man didn’t testify on his own behalf, FBI agents who spoke to him after the flight told the court that the accused had claimed the woman was “coming on to him” and told him that he was “a handsome guy” and added that he “smelled good.”
After deliberating since yesterday, the jury came back this morning with a guilty verdict, convicting the man of criminal sexual contact and sexual abuse. Though his sentence won’t be decided until October, he was taken into custody by U.S. Marshals after being deemed a substantial flight risk.
The folks at NJ.com have been following this case since the start and you can read the entire archive of related stories there.
Alas, this incident is not isolated. In just the last year, we’ve written about two alleged assaults by grabby passengers. Last August, a JetBlue plane made an emergency landing after a man was accused of groping a pregnant passenger. Then in March, another passenger — also on JetBlue — had a story similar to the United case. She told authorities that she woke up to find a strange male feeling her leg under her skirt.
So please, airline passengers of the world, please remember that the person sitting next to you probably has absolutely no interest in talking to you, let alone getting to know you in an intimate manner. No matter how many drinks you might have had at the airport lounge, just keep your hands to yourself and let your neighbors fly in peace.