The FBI is investigating claims by a Michigan woman that she was sexually assaulted by a man seated beside her while on a Spirit Airlines flight.
Tia Jackson, 22, of Westland, was in the middle seat and said she had dozed off and was leaning against her friend, who was seated by the window, when she felt a hand inside of her pants, according to the Detroit Free Press. She alleges it was the man sitting on the other side of her, in the aisle seat.
“When he touched me, that’s what made me wake up,” Jackson said to the Free Press. “I woke up to a hand in my pants and I felt his skin touch my skin. It was so gross.”
Jackson said the man had one hand in her pants and one hand on his penis, which he tried to cover up under a large coat.
“I said, ‘hey, get off me … stop touching me!’” Jackson told the Free Press she yelled. “And while in the process of me making a scene he’s trying to assist me, and pat me. And he starting saying, ‘No, no, no, no, no.’”
Jackson said this is when she stood and hit the overhead button to inform flight attendants.
Four flight attendants showed up – two men and two women – and after Jackson told them what happened, she said one of the male attendants told her: “If you don’t like the seat arrangement, you can move.”
“It was annoying. I told them I’m not moving anywhere,” Jackson said.
She said another attendant asked her to be seated but that she refused, telling them: “Make him move, or I’m not sitting down.”
Jackson said the Spirit Airlines employees didn’t ask her attacker to move until the plane had landed. She said it was then that a flight attendant asked him whether he had touched her before telling him to move.
“Just move, just move,” she told the Free Press that the attendant said to the man.
Jackson said Spirit Airlines employees treated her like she was annoying them and not like an assault victim.
“I am most upset about the fact that they took it so lightly,” Jackson said about the airline’s crew. “Not one person asked if I was OK.”
She continues “The passengers got more upset than the staff. I would like an apology at least.”
Jackson reported the incident to the airport police after she got off the plane, and the Detroit Metro Airport authorities reported the incident to the FBI.
Spirit Airlines says it also reported the incident to authorities and is cooperating as they investigate.
The airline said the plane was in the process of landing when the incident occurred and that crew members offered to move the victim but she refused, so everyone was told to stay put.
“We take this claim seriously and are in direct contact with the guest,” according to a statement released by Spirit Airlines to the Free Press.
“Our flight attendants onboard that flight learned of the alleged incident 18 minutes prior to landing when the guest pressed the call button and received immediate attention. Once she told the flight attendant who came to her seat, the flight attendant directed her to a different seat,” according to the statement.
“The cabin crew wanted to move her, as opposed to him, because the move would have left him with an empty seat on one side and an aisle on the other,” the statement adds.
But after Jackson refused to move, the airline said: “landing was imminent and everyone had to be seated as required by federal regulation.”