United Airlines has another passenger complaint to deal with — this time in court.
Karen Shiboleth claims she was forced out of her business-class seat during a flight to London from Newark, New Jersey, in September and escorted to the rear of the plane without an explanation. She sued the airline on Monday, claiming she’s out $9,146 in fees and award points, but seeks at least $150,000 in punitive damages “to deter such behavior in the future.”
United is dealing with a public-relations crisis after a passenger on another flight suffered a broken nose and two lost teeth when he was forcibly removed to make room for the airline’s employees. A lawyer for the passenger, David Dao, has said he expects to sue the airline.
Shiboleth said she was on her way to London to begin a master’s degree program in international relations at Kings College. She had originally paid $1,498.90 for a window seat in the economy cabin before using 60,000 American Express miles and an additional $498.56 in fees and expenses to upgrade to premium economy.
She said she further upgraded her seat for $1,149 at the airport in order to “ease the burden” of her move and accommodate her heavy luggage, according to the suit. About 20 minutes after she boarded the plane, and 10 minutes before takeoff, a gate attendant got on and demanded she move to the back of the plane.
Shiboleth said the attendant grabbed her arm and escorted her, “in tears,” to a middle seat in the 21st row near the back of the plane, at one point calling her a vulgar name in front of other passengers, according to the suit. The attendant refused to reimburse her for the upgrade and instead offered her a $750 voucher toward a purchase.
“We are aware of the filing and reviewing it, but due to pending litigation we are unable to comment,” United said in a statement.
Other business-class passengers have also complained about being bumped since video of Dao’s forced removal spread widely on the internet. Geoff Fearns, president of TriPacific Capital Advisors, told the Los Angeles Times a United employee threatened to remove him from his business-class seat in handcuffs earlier this month unless he left to make room for “somebody more important.”
A 94-year-old woman was allegedly moved from business class to economy on a 16-hour flight from Los Angeles to Melbourne, because her traveling companion was in the economy section, according to the woman’s granddaughter who posted her complaint on Facebook on March 1.