American Airlines is attempting to have a lawsuit brought by the family of a teenage girl who was allegedly secretly filmed by a flight attendant in an airplane bathroom thrown out, arguing that it can’t be held liable for crimes committed by its employees.
Following the September 2, 2023 flight from Charlotte to Boston, flight attendant Estes Carter Thompson III has been charged with one count of attempted sexual exploitation of children and one count of possession of child pornography, but the family says the criminal investigation has been hampered by AA’s negligence.
Prosecutors allege that during the flight, Thompson approached the 14-year-old girl who was lining up to use the bathroom at the back of the aircraft. He told her that the First Class lavatory was free and escorted her to the front of the airplane.
Before she was allowed to use the lavatory, however, Thompson said he needed to wash his hands. He then told her that the lavatory seat was broken.
On entering the bathroom, the victim saw a large ‘defective catering equipment’ sticker taped to the lavatory seat. Concealed under the sticker was an iPhone with the camera peeping out.
The victim wasn’t fooled and took a photo with her own phone and showed it to her parents. The Captain was then notified, and law enforcement was requested to meet the aircraft.
However, for the remainder of the flight, Thompson was allowed to keep hold of his phone, and it was during this time that he allegedly locked himself in one of the bathrooms and reset his iPhone to factory settings.
Law enforcement had to painstakingly work through his phone to find potential evidence. Prosecutors eventually recovered videos from his iCloud account, showing victims aged just seven, nine, 11 and 14 using an airplane bathroom. Additionally, over 50 images of a nine-year-old unaccompanied minor were allegedly found in the same account.
Despite being informed of the alleged crime, the family claim none of the other crew attempted to confiscate Thompson’s phone, despite being aware that he might try to destroy evidence.
The family also claim that other flight attendants should have noticed the “unusual and suspicious way” in which Thompson was acting in the lead up to the alleged crime.
The lawsuit accuses American Airlines of negligent hiring and supervision, alleging that Thompson was not competent and fit to work and that AA should have known that he wasn’t suitable to work as a flight attendant.
Lawyers acting on behalf of American Airlines, however, have asked a North Carolina court to dismiss the lawsuit, saying that the carrier can’t be held “liable for intentional acts or crimes of its employees where it had no knowledge of a propensity or disposition to commit either”.
American Airlines says it is continuing to cooperate with the criminal investigation.
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.