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Travel Spirit Airlines passenger: Cabin crew didn't take my groping allegation seriously

19:50  23 january  2020
19:50  23 january  2020 Source:   usatoday.com

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The FBI is investigating a Michigan woman's claim that she was sexually assaulted aboard a Spirit Airlines flight by a man sitting next to her. The woman said the flight attendants took the alleged assault lightly – asking her to move her seat, but not making that same request of him.

a woman looking at the camera: Photo of Tia Jackson, 22, of Westland, said she was sexually assaulted aboard a Spirit Airlines flight on Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2019 and that the flight crew dismissed her complaint.© Source: Tia Jackson Photo of Tia Jackson, 22, of Westland, said she was sexually assaulted aboard a Spirit Airlines flight on Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2019 and that the flight crew dismissed her complaint.

Spirit Airlines, however, said its crew did all that it could to assist the woman, offered to move her but that she refused, so everyone had to stay put – including the alleged attacker – as the plane was about to land.

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The accuser – a third-year college student at Eastern Michigan University – never sat back down as she was fuming over what she said happened: She woke up from a nap, she said, to discover a man's hands down her pants.

"We were in the process of landing and I said, 'Until y'all move him, I'm not sitting down,' " the woman, 22-year-old Tia Jackson of Westland, told the Free Press on Wednesday.

"I am most upset about the fact that they took it so lightly," Jackson said of the Spirit Airlines crew. "Not one person asked if I was OK. ... The passengers got more upset than the staff. ... I would like an apology at least."

Spirit Airlines issued a statement that detailed the steps its crew took once they were made aware of the situation.

"We take this claim seriously and are in direct contact with the guest," the statement reads, stressing the crew was "quick and professional."

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"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," Spirit Airlines states. "Once she told the flight attendant who came to her seat, the flight attendant directed her to a different seat."

Spirit Airlines continued:

"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."

But Jackson refused to move.

"By the time the guest declined to move, landing was imminent and everyone had to be seated as required by federal regulation," the statement reads. "Law enforcement began its investigation immediately after the flight arrived. We are supporting law enforcement as they investigate."

FBI spokesperson Mara Schneider confirmed an investigation, but could not offer details.

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According to Jackson, here is what happened to her on that flight:

It was about 9:08 a.m. when she heard the announcement over the intercom that the plane was preparing for landing. Jackson was flying home from a trip to Atlanta, where she was visiting family and friends and looking into future career options, specifically working at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which is headquartered in Atlanta.

Jackson was sitting in a middle seat. Her friend was sitting next to the window. An unfamiliar man was sitting in the aisle seat.

As the plane was in landing mode, Jackson leaned on her friend, who had a window seat, to get comfortable and kept her eyes shut to get a little more sleep. She was resting, half-awake, when she felt a hand inside her pants.

It was the man seated next to her, in the aisle seat.

"When he touched me, that's what made me wake up," Jackson said." I woke up to a hand in my pants and I felt his skin touch my skin. It was so gross."

According to Jackson, the man had one hand down her pants, the other was moving his penis. He tried to cover his act under a large coat, she said, noting things got ugly.

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"I said, 'Hey, get off me ... stop touching me!' " Jackson recalled. "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."

That's when she hit the overhead button.

Four flight attendants showed up. Two men. Two women. She told them what had happened when a male attendant allegedly told her: "If you don't like the seat arrangement, you can move."

"It was annoying. I told them I'm not moving anywhere," said Jackson, who remained standing.

"Mam, you need to sit down," she recalled a flight attendant telling her.

But she wouldn't budge, telling them: "Make him move, or I'm not sitting down."

According to Jackson, it wasn't until after the plane had landed that her attacker was asked to move. She said that a flight attendant approached the man, asked him whether he touched the woman next to her, and then asked him to move.

"Just move, just move," she recalled hearing the flight attendant say.

Jackson said they treated her as if she was the annoyance, not a victim.

Jackson said that after she got off the plane, she reported the incident to airport police.

Detroit Metro Airport authorities said they reported the incident to the FBI.

Spirit Airlines said that it also reported the incident to the police and that it is cooperating.

Contact Tresa Baldas: tbaldas@freepress.com

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Spirit Airlines passenger: Cabin crew didn't take my groping allegation seriously

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