Following a lengthy court case, a 49-year-old man has been found guilty of abusive sexual contact with a young woman aboard a United Airlines flight from Cleveland to Los Angeles in February 2020.
Mohammad Jawad Ansari of Pomona, California, had pleaded not guilty to the felony charge of sexual assault but a federal jury sided with the victim and another passenger who saw what Ansari did.
Court documents detail how Ansari placed his hand on the victim’s knee and then moved his hand up her inner thigh during the flight while she was sleeping. The victim, who has not been named for legal reasons, was wearing a dress when Ansari assaulted her.
According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California, the victim had fallen asleep in a middle seat shortly after takeoff, and Ansari was sitting next to her in the window seat when he started to touch her without her consent.
The victim immediately pushed Ansari’s hand away and got up to inform the flight attendant, who radioed ahead to have law enforcement waiting to meet the flight, while keeping an eye on Ansari for the rest of the flight.
In a special public service announcement, Donald Alway, the assistant director in charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office, advised air passengers to immediately alert a flight attendant if they experience any kind of sexual misconduct on a flight.
“Most passengers travel by air without incident, but if you or a loved one encounter sexual misconduct—whether physical or verbal—please alert your flight attendant immediately because timely reporting is important for responding investigators,” Alway said.
The FBI has previously suggested other in-flight precautions to prevent sexual assault, including avoiding mixing sleeping tablets with alcohol and making sure the armrest between you and a stranger remains down – “no matter how polite he or she may seem”.
“If alerted in advance, FBI agents can be on hand when the plane lands to conduct interviews and take subjects into custody,” the agency said in an advisory. “FBI victim specialists can respond as well, because victims of federal crimes are entitled by law to a variety of services.”
Flight attendant unions are currently lobbying for Congress to support the ‘Protection from Abusive Passengers Act’ which would create a national no-fly list of perpetrators convicted of physical or sexual assault onboard an aircraft.
Ansari is set to be sentenced on September 29. He faces a saturated maximum sentence of two years in federal prison.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.