Less than a week after Frontier, Inc. was accused of discriminating against pregnant and breastfeeding flight attendants, the airline has been hit with another proposed class action, this time alleging it failed to prevent and properly respond to reports of in-flight sexual assaults.
According to the case, while the number of sexual assaults reported during commercial airline flights is on the rise, Frontier has largely ignored the issue. The two plaintiffs, one of whom filed suit anonymously, claim Frontier has no policies in place to prevent or respond to reports of sexual assault and has even gone so far as to refuse to cooperate with investigations.
Rise of In-Flight Sexual Assault Is ‘Well-Known,’ Case Says
The lawsuit explains that incidents of passenger-on-passenger sexual assault during commercial flights has been steadily increasing “at an alarming rate.” The FBI, which is responsible for handling crimes committed aboard aircraft, has seen “more reports of in-flight sexual assault than ever before,” noting that there are likely many more cases that were never reported.
According to the agency, incidents of in-flight sexual assault are “strikingly similar”:
The attacks generally occur on long-haul flights when the cabin is dark. The victims are usually in middle or window seats, sleeping, and covered with a blanket or jacket. They report waking up to their seatmate’s hands inside their clothing or underwear.”
Incidents like this can be handled by the flight crew and the FBI, the agency noted, stating that the flight attendants and captains “represent authority on the plane” and can sometimes handle the situation in the air by recording the offender’s identity and putting him or her on notice. The crew can also alert the FBI ahead of time so agents can be on hand when the plane lands to handle the investigation and take appropriate action.
The two plaintiffs claim Frontier, despite being aware of the “growing prevalence” of in-flight sexual assaults, has failed to take any action to prevent or respond to incidents.
The Plaintiffs’ Experiences
The named plaintiff in the case says she was sexually assaulted by a male passenger on a Frontier flight from Denver to Providence on October 20, 2018. Although she reported the incident immediately, the flight attendant would not allow her to switch seats, the case states. The flight attendant did not report the incident “to anyone else” or ask that law enforcement be contacted to meet the plane upon landing, the plaintiff alleges. Afterward, Frontier allegedly refused to provide to the FBI and the plaintiff the identities of the assailant and any potential witnesses.
The anonymous plaintiff’s story echoes these claims. The woman says she was sexually assaulted on her flight from Denver to Florida on November 30, 2018. Frontier never reported this incident and again failed to cooperate with the investigation by refusing to provide the offender’s and witnesses’ identities, the case says.
Frontier Neglected ‘Special Duty’ to Protect Passengers, Suit Claims
The lawsuit argues that Frontier, as a common carrier, has a “special duty” to protect and aid in the protection of its passengers’ safety, including by preventing and properly responding to instances of sexual assault.
While under Frontier’s care, passengers have limited resources and little control over their environment, the suit explains, as they are confined to “cramped quarters” until the plane lands and are unable to communicate with friends, family, or law enforcement. Passengers’ protection while they remain in this “zone of danger” is entrusted solely to Frontier, the lawsuit argues, who retains the right to exercise control over “violent or disruptive” passengers, including those who are “intoxicated, unruly, interfering with a member of the flight crew, disobeying flight crew instructions, and/or wearing an unpermitted deadly or dangerous weapon.”
While Frontier does have policies in place for dealing with the aforementioned disruptions, the airline has no such policy or procedure for handling reports of sexual assault, the plaintiffs allege. According to the case, 86 percent of flight attendants who participated in a survey conducted by the Association of Flight Attendants Employee Assistance Program said they had “no knowledge or written guidance and/or training” on how to handle reports of sexual assault.
This lack of policy and training puts all Frontier passengers at risk of harm, the case argues, and “exacerbates and amplifies” the trauma that occurs as the result of sexual assault. The plaintiffs claim Frontier, despite knowing passengers were dependent on the airline, failed to uphold its duty to protect them:
Frontier breached duties owed to Plaintiffs and Class members in a manner demonstrating Frontier must have realized as dangerous, and did so heedlessly and recklessly, without regard to consequences, or to the rights and safety of others, especially Plaintiffs and Class members.”
Who Is the Lawsuit Looking to Cover?
The case seeks to cover all passengers who flew on Frontier flights since December 16, 2017.
How Do I Join the Lawsuit?
At this time, there’s nothing you need to do to join the lawsuit. Should the case settle (which could be months or even years from now), anyone who is covered should receive a class action notice that explains the details of the settlement and what to do next. For now, stay tuned and stay safe.