An explosive lawsuit against American Airlines has been filed in New York, with a woman claiming a flight attendant locked her and her three-year-old son in a first class lavatory and then insinuated they were terrorists.
Lawsuit: American Airlines Locked Mother And Baby In First Class Lavatory, Accused Them Of Being Terrorists
The incident occurred on a flight from Fort Lauderdale (FLL) to New York (JFK) in September 2022. Yasbleidy Giraldo, who goes by Yazz, was traveling with her husband, toddler son, and baby girl. Giraldo and the children were seated in the first row of economy class while her husband, Ali Moghaddam, was seated in the rear of the plane. Giraldo is a polyglot and was speaking Farsi to her chlidren, which she now claims made flight attendants suspicious.
According to the lawsuit, what unfolded is shocking:
- Both children had to use the restroom
- Seated in the first row of economy class, Giraldo proceeded toward the first class restroom
- the lavatory policy on American Airlines permits the use of lavatories closest to your seat, regardless of cabin
- other passengers from economy class had purportedly been using the first class restroom
- A flight attendant turned them away from the first class lavatory and directed them toward the back of the plane
- In the rear of the plane, another flight attendant confirmed Giraldo could have used any lavatory
- Later on in the flight, her son had to use the restroom “urgently” so she proceeded to the first class lavatory
- The same flight attendant tried to stop her, but she entered the lavatory and closed the door
- Moments later, she heard a “click” and found the lavatory door locked
Giraldo explained her present sense impression of the incident:
“I freaked out. I was already under so much stress. … I started to panic, I banged on the door a few times and I said, ‘Let me out of here.’ She was punishing me for challenging her.”
The lawsuit may hinge on this, as I will reason below.
- The same flight attendant reportedly “sneered through the door, ‘Oh, are you locked in, do you need someone to open the door ma’am?'”
- Minutes later (it is not clear how much time transpired), Giraldo was let out with a rebuke from the flight attendant, “The pilot decided to put the plane under terrorist attack warning because of you.”
- When Giraldo tried to explain herself, the flight attendant purportedly began to scream she was lying
- Meanwhile Moghaddam was not even aware of what was going on with his family until the flight landed
- Airport police met the flight at JFK and escorted the family off
- Moghaddam requested immediately to be taken to the FBI airport substation, which instead just let to their release with only limited questioning and no charges
- Moghaddam once worked for the FBI and Joint Terrorism Task Force
- He told the New York Post, “I dedicated about a decade of my life to public service, to protecting the community. Joint Terrorism Task Force, undercover, S.W.A.T., all of this? For my family to be labeled as terrorist and be marched off a plane just because we want to change a diaper?”
Giraldo filed her lawsuit in the US District Court for the Eastern District of New York, alleging religious and racial discrimination.
An American Airlines spokesperson did not wholly discount the lawsuit, offering a cautionary note:
“American strives to provide a positive and welcoming experience to everyone who travels with us and we take allegations of discrimination very seriously. We are reviewing the details of the lawsuit.”
My Thoughts On This Case
We’ve heard one side of the case and it is absolutely damning. While final judgement should be reserved until American Airlines has had a chance to respond, I still have a number of thoughts on the case.
First, I think a false imprisonment tort may be aded to this case. If you are not aware of how lavatories, work, they can be locked from the inside or the outside. On the outside, you can pull down the metal strip above the handle can then slide the lock in and out. Giraldo claims that she was unable to open the lavatory door. If so, that can only mean the flight attendant was actively holding it shut, which is far worse than simply locking it for her (if we were to give the flight attendant the benefit of the doubt). A lavatory can be locked from the outside, but it cannot be locked in the sense that the occupancy inside the lavatory cannot open it.
Then there is the Farsi aspect of this case. Giraldo believes she was targeted because the flight attendant heard her speaking Farsi (the predominant language in Iran). Per Giraldo, the flight attendant’s prejudice informed her treatment of them because other economy class passengers were allowed to use the first class lavatory without issue.
Third, I want to play out this case for a moment giving the flight attendant the total benefit of the doubt. Let’s just say that Giraldo was upset that she was denied the use of the first class lavatory (it must have been on her mind, because she did not just use the lavatory in the rear of the plane but brought up the first class lavatory to one of the flight attendants in the back). And let’s say that despite flight attendants warning (which were objectively unreasonable), she charged forward and used the first class lavatory. Thus, we can understand the fear of the flight attendant.
But fear that is not reasonable is not a valid defense. If the flight attendant was simply afraid of her due to prejudice against the “Arab” (Farsi is not Arabic) language, her genuine fear does not make this situation any less egregious. Based upon the way JFK-based flight attendants looked at me while taking pictures on my flight from Doha to New York last year, I was just so thankful that I was a white man because I strongly doubt it would have ended well had I been dark or spoken Arabic (remember, the purser told me how concerned they were about my picture taking, but no one said anything while I was doing it).
This will be an interesting case (if it makes it to trial, which I strongly doubt) and it does not look good for American Airlines. Even though we only have only one side of the case, I hope we can agree that a mother traveling with a toddler and baby who has gone through the same TSA security checkpoint as everyone else cannot be considered a threat because she speaks Farsi (same as true for a man traveling alone, for that matter). As for the nuances of this case, I suspect American will settle and we will never know, but would love to hear the flight attendant’s side of the story.
image: Yazz Giraldo / Facebook