Sexual Assaults on Planes

During Sexual Assault Awareness Month, the FBI alerted the public to a significant uptick in sexual assault cases about aircraft. In 2023, there were 96 cases of in-flight sexual assaults.

Sexual assault or sexual abuse aboard aircraft — usually unwanted touching — is a felony.

According to the FBI, most in-flight sexual assaults begin when the victim is sleeping. Often, victims are in middle or window seats and covered with a blanket or jacket. They report waking up to their seatmate’s hands inside their clothing or underwear.

Victims Can File Lawsuits

With experience in both aviation and sexual assault cases, Mark Lindquist Law vigorously pursues civil actions on behalf of victims. Most recently, we filed a lawsuit on behalf of a victim of an in-flight sexual assault committed by a Delta Air Lines employee. The victim was returning home from a Taylor Swift concert.

After the victim woke up and realized she was being sexually assaulted, the perpetrator went to the restroom. He was visibly intoxicated and left behind empty airline alcohol bottles.

Both a witness and the victim reported the sexual assault to flight attendants. The perpetrator was still allowed to return to his seat next to the victim. After approximately 15 minutes, flight attendants finally moved the perpetrator to a different seat.

The FBI thoroughly investigated the case and U.S. Attorney’s Office in Seattle effectively prosecuted the case. The Defendant pled guilty to Abusive Sexual Contact.

Mark discussed this case and others like it without KOMO TV.

Airlines Have a Duty

As “common carriers,” airlines owe the highest duty of care and have a legal duty to provide airline passengers with a safe flight. This includes, of course, a flight that is free from unauthorized and abusive sexual contact.

Additionally, airlines have a duty to adequately train employees on how to prevent and address sexual assaults and monitor the cabin and protect passengers. Airlines should not, of course, over serve alcohol to passengers.

Airlines that fail to fulfill these duties, or are somehow otherwise negligent, are liable along with perpetrators in cases of sexual assault on their planes.

Full accountability can be achieved by pursuing both criminal and civil prosecutions. Future flights and passengers are safer when assaults are reported.

FBI Has Jurisdiction

Crimes aboard aircraft fall within the FBI’s jurisdiction, and in the case of in-flight sexual assaults, agents describe elements of these crimes as being strikingly similar. Victims are often asleep. Defendants are often intoxicated.

Offenders are known to take advantage of the fact that victims might not report an incident because they are embarrassed, don’t want to cause a scene, or may try to convince themselves the assault was accidental.

The FBI urges passengers to be aware of their surroundings and take precautions to stay safe. This includes, “keeping the armrest down between you and your seatmate and requesting a seat change if the passenger next to you engages in behavior that makes you feel uncomfortable.”

Anyone who believes they have been sexually assaulted should alert a member of the flight crew. Victims can also contact the FBI at or 1-800-CALL-FBI.

Additionally, victims should contact an aviation lawyer with experience in sexual assault cases. This is a particular and sensitive area of the law.

Reporting Sexual Assault on Planes

Timely notification to the flight crew and law enforcement is critical to both criminal and civil cases. Crime aboard aircraft is more difficult to investigate once days, or even hours, have passed following the incident. Witnesses depart and recollections can fade.

If alerted in advance, FBI agents can be on hand when the plane lands to conduct interviews and take subjects into custody if warranted. FBI victim specialists can respond as well because victims of federal crimes are entitled by law to a variety of victim services.

If law enforcement is not able to respond on the ground, victims are encouraged after landing to contact the nearest FBI office. Victims can also report to local law enforcement who should contact the FBI.

Aviation and personal injury attorneys with proper experience can not only file lawsuits on behalf of victims, but can also work with law enforcement. This increases the odds of full accountability, justice, and closure.