Arrested Over First Class Lavatory Use; $11,498 Lawsuit?

C laiming that a flight attendant — purely out of spite — was allegedly responsible for them being taken into custody by police over a squabble about the use of a lavatory, Jessica DeWitt and Michael Dobbs are suing Alaska Airlines for $11,498.00 in damages, according to an article written by Aimee Green of The Oregonian.

DeWitt and Dobbs were seated as passengers in the first class cabin on an airplane operated by Alaska Airlines from Las Vegas to Portland on Sunday, February 16, 2014 when DeWitt needed to use the lavatory; but passengers kept streaming in from the economy class cabin to use the lavatory in the first class cabin.

A flight attendant reportedly refused the request of DeWitt to announce that passengers were only to use the lavatories in their assigned cabins.

When DeWitt eventually was able to use the lavatory, the flight attendant supposedly “slammed the door shut”, according to the lawsuit. DeWitt claimed that her shoulder was hurt as a result, and she asked for the name of the flight attendant.

Not long after that, the flight attendant allegedly completed a form and handed it to DeWitt and Dobbs, stating that “the couple had created an in-flight disturbance by verbally assaulting her.”

Officers from the Portland International Airport Police Department had reportedly escorted the couple off of the aircraft in front of fellow passengers who were asked to remain seated.

DeWitt suffered a rotator cuff injury and impingement syndrome, which will supposedly require approximately two months of physical therapy. The lawsuit of $11,498.00 is comprised of the following claims:

  • $1,498.00 for the medical expenses of DeWitt
  • $7,000.00 in “non-economic damages” for pain, suffering and inconvenience
  • $1,500.00 for humiliation of DeWitt from being taken into custody
  • $1,500.00 for humiliation of Dobbs from being taken into custody

 

Alaska Airlines reportedly offered to settle the case by paying for the medical expenses of DeWitt plus a few hundred additional dollars; but the couple refused the offer.

Although I believe that there is more to this story than meets the eye — a flight attendant usually does not go through the trouble to fill out a form complaining about passengers unless absolutely warranted — the real topic is the cause of what led up to this story in the first place: the age-old argument of whether or not passengers assigned to seats in the economy class cabin should be permitted to use lavatories located in a premium class cabin.

As I wrote in this article back on September 6, 2013, there are reasons why passengers assigned to seats located in the economy class cabin use the lavatories in the premium class cabin, including:

  • Perceived laziness as to not want to walk all the way to the rear of the aircraft — especially if the lavatories in the premium class cabin are more conveniently located to their seats
  • The beverage cart might be blocking the aisle as flight attendants serve food and drinks to passengers during a service
  • All of the lavatories in the economy class cabin may be in use with lines of passengers awaiting their turn
  • Although this could surely happen in the premium class cabin, there are times where at least one of the lavatories in the economy class cabin needs to be fumigated just to get the odor all of the way down to the level of “awful stench”

 

There are reasons why passengers assigned to seats located in the premium class cabin want passengers assigned to seats located in the economy class cabin to use the lavatories in their assigned cabin, including:

  • The use of a lavatory without having to wait in a long line is considered one of the benefits of being a passenger seated in the premium class cabin
  • Lavatories located in the premium class cabin may include amenities not found in lavatories located in the economy class cabin — can you imagine, for example, economy class passengers lining up to use the shower facilities equipped in the premium class lavatories on some aircraft operated by Emirates Airline?
  • The “invasion” of passengers assigned to seats in the economy class cabin to use lavatories located in the premium class cabin can disrupt the ambiance, peace and quiet of the premium class cabin — not to mention a greater chance of potentially “soiling” the lavatory

 

Human beings have basic bodily functions which can be delayed but not ignored. If someone really needs to use a lavatory immediately and the one located in the cabin to which he or she is assigned is not available, who is anyone to deny that person of relieving that need? Whether or not they are inebriated, do we really want to witness passengers urinating in the aisles or at their seats in extreme cases?

On the other hand, what is to stop other passengers from mimicking or pretending to have that need relieved themselves? Where should the line be drawn?

This was quite a contentious topic, according to the comments posted in that article by readers of The Gate

…so I will ask again: what do you think would be the ideal policy — and where should the threshold or line be drawn? Is this a legitimate concern — or simply a “first-world” debate which is nothing more than the perpetuation of a class system? Is this debate so contentious that people are resorting to altercations and lawsuits? Please share your opinions, beliefs, stories and experiences.

6 thoughts on “Arrested Over First Class Lavatory Use; $11,498 Lawsuit?”

  1. Jason says:

    So, how long before this becomes a civil rights argument?

    1. Brian Cohen says:

      Good question, Jason.

      Of course, this topic is moot on airplanes with only one class of service…

  2. Erik says:

    When I’ve heard the announcement, it goes something like “per FAA regulations, passengers are required to use the lavatory in their assigned/ticketed class of service” . . . I don’t know about the FAA regulations regarding this issue, but if this is the case, I’d wish the FA’s would enforce this as diligently as they did the cell phone & electronics ban when it was in effect . . .

  3. Captain says:

    While I have witnessed plenty of economy class passengers use the first class bathroom, it never seems to create a bottleneck. Some people just need to relax and realize that travel is about compromise. Sometimes it’s not always black and white. If everyone used common courtesy there wouldn’t be stupid arguments like this.

  4. shay peleg says:

    2 months of physical therapy yeah right I bet ya it’s healed after a week. People really abuse businesses on the law suits in the states.

  5. CCORD says:

    Like the excessive carry on luggage debate this is not uniformly enforced anywhere. I fly AS frequently and their employees are lovely so there’s clearly more to this story. Some flights (AS,AA) close the curtain and that it’s – no one allowed past. Some flights they have coach passengers line up in coach to wait for the first bathroom. Some flights it’s a free for all. If I’m in first I do find it irritating to have a line of people standing next to meet for a good portion of the flight as everyone from the wing forward uses the first loo. I’m no snob but for me one of the benefits of first is having a loo used by 16 people versus over 100. I think it should be enforced uniformly. When I’m in back (usually in the exit row) I use the back loos. It’s gross and a pain but that’s what I paid for.

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