I went back and forth before writing this piece. It’s probably been over five years since this incident took place. It hasn’t been nearly that long since I’ve thought about it, though.
I was headed on a flight from SFO to Las Vegas for a work conference. I was in a middle seat in coach. I had no make-up on, my hair was a wet mess, and I was in yoga pants and a sweater. Two men came on the flight and sat next to each other with the aisle between them.
As the flight was filling up, another man was traveling alone. He apologized to me and my aisle mate as he had the window seat.
“Sorry. You two together?” he said as we got up to let him into his seat. “Oh no.”, we both responded without much thought.
I closed my eyes, crossed my legs, and tried to nap as I do on most flights without my kids. I woke up to my window seatmate with his hand in-between my legs, moving his hand in and out of my thighs.
I was confused, shocked, angry, and embarrassed in a split second. I grabbed his hand and shoved it away. I looked him directly in the eyes and said, “Oh… umm… no!”
I completely turned my body away from him, leaning closer to my other seatmate, who was busy talking to his friend on the other side of the aisle for the rest of the flight. I was hot and embarrassed. I was running through the whole flight in my head. How did this happen? How can I explain what just occurred?
When the flight landed and the seatbelt sign went off, I leaped up from my seat, grabbed my bag, and ran off the plane.
I called my husband and told him what had happened. I told him the man was probably also sleeping and maybe “sleepwalking,” thinking I was his wife. That or he was perhaps super drunk and drank while I was asleep. Surely, he didn’t mean it – I wasn’t even looking cute! I rattled off several justifications.
You Did Nothing Wrong
My husband stopped me and said, “NO., He is a creep, and 100% knew what he was doing. You’re doing that thing women do to justify the man’s behavior when they get sexually assaulted. You did nothing wrong.” (I love my husband).
I had to check into my hotel, change, and get to my conference duties, so I called the airline to report what happened. They told me that since it happened in the air, I would need to contact the Las Vegas police department and file a report. I didn’t have the time. So instead, I told them to flag the name of the man who sat in the window seat next to me – so that in the future, if anyone claimed to be assaulted by him on a plane, they would have another person claiming this. And then I dropped it.
I googled “woman assaulted on a plane” before I wrote this, and there are several articles about this happening. One woman even got raped on an international flight to London! Sara Nelson, a United Airlines flight attendant and president of the union, told CNN, “In my 22 years as a flight attendant, I have never taken part in a conversation — in training or otherwise — about handling sexual harassment or sexual assault.”
This was one of the most traumatic experiences of my life. I realize that makes me very, very fortunate. But I have thought about how I could have handled the situation differently as I have replayed it in my mind so many times over the years.
If I could go back in time and redo my reaction, I would have done the following:
- Stay calm
- Stand up
- Take the phone in my hand and take a picture of their face
- Press the attendant call button
- YELL to the cabin that “This man just sexually assaulted me!”
- Get the attendants to switch my seat
- Post a photo of the perpetrator on Twitter/Instagram/Facebook/
- Have the flight attendant call for the police so that they are waiting for me and my gross seatmate when I land and file my report
I regret not doing that so much. Not just for my sense of justice, but because I kick myself thinking he’s out there doing that to other women on flights. And I could have stopped him.
I sincerely hope no one reading this ever experiences what I did. But if you do – please live out my revenge scenario. Safe travels!