Delta Air Lines on Tuesday was sued by a woman passenger who claimed she was groped during an international flight and the airline gave her a cold shoulder about the incident. The woman, identified as Allison Dvaladze, aims to draw attention to such mid-flight assaults.
In a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Seattle, Dvaladze said she was sleeping on an overnight flight from Seattle to Amsterdam in April 2016 when a man sitting beside her repeatedly grabbed her crotch. Dvaladze yelled at the man and asked him to stop.
“He put his hand on my crotch multiple times,” Dvaladze said. “I right away hit his hand and yelled, ‘No!’ I worked as hard as I could to get away.”
She later got up from her seat and ran to the back of the plane to alert the flight crew. However, the incident turned worse when one of the crew members suggested she should “‘let it roll off your back.’”
“They were trying to be supportive, but it was obvious they had no clear guidelines,” Dvaladze recalled. “They wanted me to tell them. They asked me, ‘What do you want to do?’”
The woman claimed flight crew allowed her to switch seats with another passenger for the duration of the flight, but before landing asked her to return to her original seat. She refused to do so and was shocked by the crew members’ anemic response to the incident.
The lawsuit claims the airline staff neither contacted law enforcement about the incident nor took steps to identify the passenger.
“A lot of airlines don’t want to be identified as the airline that has the problem,” Dvaladze said. “This is not an airlines specific problem this is an industrywide problem.”
Delta Air Lines has not yet issued a public statement over the recent lawsuit filed against the airline and the unnamed alleged assaulter.
In December, when the Seattle Times asked for comments, a spokesman wrote the company took sexual assault seriously and was “disheartened by the events Ms. Dvaladze’s described.”
Dvaladze, the director of strategy for an international women’s cancer program based at the University of Washington, said of the 2016 incident: “It was totally, completely shocking to have that happen. I’ve travelled for years. I never heard of this and never thought about it … I couldn’t sleep the rest of the flight. I just wanted off the plane.”
Nate Bingham, one of her lawyers, said international air travel is a “high-risk situation” as it is one of those times when a person might have to sleep for many hours next to a stranger.
“After it happened to her, Allison did more research,” Bingham said. “Sex harassment on commercial flights is a disturbingly pervasive issue. As common carriers, airlines have a responsibility to protect their passengers.”