United Passenger Sues Airline, Says She Was Arrested For Changing Seats

Just about anyone who has had the luxury of flying on a plane with several empty seats has probably moved to another seat to gain a few inches of personal space. But a passenger on a United flight says she was removed from the flight for wanting to relocate within the cabin and jailed for then trying to remain on board.

The suit, initially filed in a New York state court but subsequently removed to a U.S. District Court, states that the passenger was flying from NYC to Anchorage, AK, with a couple of stops along the way.

After one such stop in Seattle, during which the flight crew was switched and passengers were allowed to temporarily deplane, the plaintiff says she first sat down in her assigned seat. But then after noticing that there were numerous empty seats on this final leg of the trip, she took it upon herself to move.

However, a flight attendant then told her that if she wanted to sit in this seat, she’d have to pay a premium of $109.

“So I went forward and then another stewardess came along and said ‘Give me your credit card,’” she tells CBS 2 in NYC. “At that point I decided no, I’m not paying $109 and I’ll go back to my seat.”

The complaint states that once the passenger became aware of the upcharge she ““without further discussion, immediately and peacefully returned to her assigned seat.”

According to the complaint, there were no further discussions between the passenger and flight attendant.

But then things went sour when the captain announced over the loudspeaker that “there was a passenger on the plane who did not want to fly to Alaska.”

The plaintiff says she had no idea the announcement was referring to her until she was eventually told that she was being removed from the plane.

She admits to having resisted police efforts to remove her from the plane, as she’d paid a significant amount of money for her trip and did not believe she’d done anything wrong.

“I said ‘no, I paid for this seat and I’m going to stay here,’” she recalls.

The complaint states that so much force was used in taking her off the plane that her clothes were torn in the process. In the video above, she shows the CBS reporter a pair of jeans she claims were ripped during her arrest.

“They did handcuff me, there were three policemen that dragged me out of the plane,” she tells CBS 2.

She ended up spending three days in jail some 3,000 miles from home. She also had no way of getting home, as United had canceled her ticket, meaning she had to go out of pocket for a return fare on another airline. The plaintiff also say she lost money from hotel and other expenses that she’s paid for in advance but couldn’t use or get refunded.

The complaint alleges, among other things, breach of contract, age and gender discrimination, and negligent hiring, training and supervision of United employees. In total, the passenger is seeking $5 million in damages from the airline.

For its part, United isn’t commenting specifically on the case, though lawyers for the airline did file a motion to dismiss [PDF] most of the claims, stating that the plaintiff doesn’t have a viable complaint under the United contract of carriage; that there is insufficient evidence to make a discrimination claim; and that federal law preempts her state-level claims of negligent hiring and training.

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