Lawsuit Over Alaska Airlines First Class Lavatory Usage

A dispute over first class lavatory usage on a Las Vegas to Portland flight is leading an Oregon couple to sue Alaska Airlines for $11,000+.

Via Oregon Live:

The pair were seated in the first-class cabin, and DeWitt needed to use the restroom. Yet passengers from coach kept walking up to use the first-class restroom — and DeWitt grew more uncomfortable by the minute as she waited for an opportunity to use the toilet.

Patton said when DeWitt asked a flight attendant if she would make an announcement stating that passengers were only to use the restrooms in their assigned cabins, the flight attendant said she would not.

“The flight attendant got real snippy,” Patton said. When DeWitt eventually made it into the restroom, the flight attendant slammed the door shut, the suit states. DeWitt said her shoulder was hurt, and she asked for the flight attendant’s name, Patton said.

A short while later, the flight attendant handed DeWitt and Dobbs a form she’d filled out, stating the couple had created an in-flight disturbance by verbally assaulting her, Patton said.

DeWitt and Dobbs say they did no such thing.

Patton said as the plane pulled up to the gate in Portland, passengers were told to remain seated while Port of Portland police boarded and escorted DeWitt and Dobbs off.

So what are they actually suing over?

DeWitt suffered a rotator cuff injury and impingement syndrome — requiring about two months of physical therapy, Patton said. She is seeking $1,498 for her medical expenses and $7,000 in non-economic damages for pain, suffering and inconvenience.

DeWitt and Dobbs also are seeking $1,500 each for humiliation from being taken into custody, Patton said.

Patton said the airline offered to settle the case by paying DeWitt’s medical expenses — plus a few hundred dollars more, but the couple turned the offer down.

It’s an interesting case for sure. Of course we don’t know what really happened, though I can relate to the general struggle. They often announce that the forward lavatory is exclusively for first class passengers, but then don’t enforce it, meaning a queue of economy passengers forms, and then it’s tough to use the lavatory as a first class passenger.

The first thoughts that come to mind are:

  • Many flight attendants will announce that the first class lavatory is reserved exclusively for passengers seated in first class due to FAA regulations. Now, I think the “FAA regulations” line is bogus, but at the same time if the passengers have heard that announcement before, can you blame them for asking it be repeated on that flight?
  • Best I can tell the passengers weren’t arrested or charged on arrival, which suggests they didn’t do anything too horrible
  • Why on earth was the flight attendant slamming the door when the passenger used it?
  • Alaska did offer to pay the medical bills, which seems to suggest there’s at least some merit to the couple’s case

What do you make of this story?

Alaska-Airlines

Comments

  1. When I’m in first class, I don’t really mind people using the lavatory up there as long as it is open and there is no line. Sometimes it is virtually impossible for them to get to the lavs in their cabin because the food/drink cart is blocking their path. And is someone is elderly or disabled, I think they should be allowed to use the most convenient lavatory, regardless of cabin.

    But if there is a queue of economy passengers lined up and I have to go, I get annoyed. People shouldn’t be queuing up front near the cockpit door anyway for security reasons. It seems random whether or not the flight attendants enforce the rules about which lavatory you can use.

  2. If the airlines started grounding any of these flight attendants involved in one of these “situations” and left them grounded “pending a complete investigation” then perhaps most of them would stop drinking 9/11 billy bad ass kook-aid………….it is a power trip on the attendants part…..nothing more and nothing less…..

  3. Totally agree with Chris. If the drink cart etc. are out it can be a while before an economy passenger near the front can use their lavs so that’s reasonable. Definitely annoying when lots of passengers exclusively use the front lav at all points of the flight and create a queue though.

    I’ve had it enforced when I was in economy and went up once which I thought was totally fine. Sounds like an odd interaction in both instances in this case though. Flight attendant could have handled the request better (perhaps, I’ll make an announcement after these passengers clear) and I also don’t know why on earth the FA would touch the door? Rotator cuff injury sounds bizarre given how flimsy those doors are – I’d expect witnesses to be able to speak to an FA slamming the door that hard.

    Also sounds absurd to have them police escorted off the plane though. In general I think passenger / FA skirmishes can escalate out of control pretty quickly though. Both from unreasonable passengers going over the top (maybe stress of travel, etc.) and making a scene over things that shouldn’t matter and FA’s / gate agents calling for police or barring boarding over passenger complaints (perhaps letting all of their frustration towards customers build up). I remember a passenger at BOS complaining to the whole gate about how a gate agent had been saying there were police near the plane while we waited to board. He was yelling / complaining to everyone that she was creating a panic at the airport (huge overreaction in my opinion) and then loudly asking for her name and that he was going to report her. She then snapped back saying she’d remove him from the boarding line etc. At the end of the day he has the right to complain but he was almost asking for a reaction from her by yelling to the whole gate and embarrassing her over his personal complaint most other passengers didn’t share.

  4. I think the passengers must have done more they he is claiming to have provoked the flight attendant like that. But if it is true that the flight attendant slammed the lavatory door on them out of rage, causing an injury, then the flight attendant should be fired and the passengers should be compensated. People with jobs dealing with the public (including flight attendants) have to be thick skinned and patient, because they inevitably have to deal with a lot of rude and inconsiderate people. Losing their cool is bad for everyone.

  5. So since Alaska offered to pay right away, my guess is this is not the first such incident involving this particular flight attendant… they probably know she did do something wrong.
    Some of them really behave like cops on a plane instead of service employees… this is why people prefer to fly foreign carriers.

  6. If these flight attendants are still so shell shocked over 09/11, 13 years later, perhaps a change in employment is warranted along with a visit to a mental health professional. I can’t imagine going to work each day being so scared/miserable that I would feel the need to have the police called on customers I am being paid to serve. In any other occupation, carrying on like a drama queen and being rude to customers would get you quickly fired.

  7. I forget where I read it, but I once saw a good explanation of the “FAA regulations require” line. Basically, the airlines are required to submit their policies for approval, and once approved, are required by regulation to enforce their policies.

    I.e., any FAA-approved airline policy is required by regulation.

  8. “A short while later, the flight attendant handed DeWitt and Dobbs a form she’d filled out, stating the couple had created an in-flight disturbance by verbally assaulting her, Patton said.”

    Did the FA also note she got a bad case of the vapors and clutched her pearls whilst falling onto her fainting couch?

  9. Wow. The FA hit the woman with a door hard enough to cause her lasting injury and then, realizing she would probably be reported when they landed, decided to call the police pro-actively to try to get the victims jailed. Is that a fair description of what happened? How is $11K a fair settlement? A violent sociopath who tries to get her victims arrested belongs in jail. That goes far beyond just losing one’s temper. That’s evil. The victims are entitled to more than a puny $11K divided up between a bunch of doctors and lawyers.

  10. Asian Airlines still better, probably because of the culture itself, (No racist here), and no wonder I don’t see the big three, AA, Delta, United, and even Alaska Air can’t reach 4 stars at the Skytrax. Police escort on the arrival is totally unnecessary.

  11. @ Brad — My understanding is that airlines submit their policies and procedures to the FAA, and once approved they become FAA regulations by extension. Someone please correct me if I’m wrong.

  12. Without knowing the truth of these allegations, do not infer that just because Alaska offered to settle, it means there is any truth to them. Corporations frequently offer to settle what we attorneys call “nuisance” lawsuits, for a number of reasons – publicity surrounding the lawsuit, the money it would take to defend it, etc.

  13. They should be suing for more than $11,000. We’ve had two run-ins with flight attendants. In each case, we did nothing wrong but were threatened by the FAs.

  14. I hate hate hate it when people from Y try to use the F lavatory. I don’t dare do that when I’m seated in Y. It’s unbelievable to me when people walk up and just push the curtain aside – the curtain that is clearly designed to keep you out of the F cabin! There’s just no excuse for it.

    I also hate hearing about crap like this when an FA goes on a power trip and has the police escort someone off. Is there a form you can fill out as a passenger to have the FA escorted off? Probably not, which is B.S. This type of thing should cut both ways. The over-reaction and incessant need to pull law enforcement into insignificant situations in our country is out of control.

  15. Based on the report, all we are hearing at this point is the passenger’s lawyer’s version of events. I would want to hear Alaska’s side of the story before passing judgment. It is easy to make allegations like this, but that doesn’t mean that we have heard the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

  16. I definitely don’t agree with the assertion that if the airline offered a few hundred dollars to cover medical costs, it is guilty. In fact, I took the opposite from the story. At a few hundred dollars, it’s easier for the airline to pay out than show up to court.

    If there were something real to this case, it’s likely that the airline would be willing to pay out MUCH more to keep the couple quiet. 11k+ is worth it to them to avoid the bad publicity if the FA really injured the lady.

    My guess is that the airline has a pretty strong case, and is willing to pursue it only because it knows that when the facts come out, it will be clear that the FA did nothing (or very little, comparatively) wrong.

  17. I agree with others who are not taking the passenger’s version as gospel. I suspect there is a lot more to the story….

  18. I fly FC Alaska on average 100K a year and I can tell you it can get dicey trying to get to the lab in FC. And frankly AS does not seem to care.

  19. When sitting 2 rows behind F in a premium seat and the FAs block access to the aft toilets for half an hour with that darn cart selling stuff for Alaska and the pilot is a nervous Nellie who leaves the seat belt sign for most of the flight……what are you supposed to do? 1toilet for 10-12 unobstructed pax vs 3 for 140 in the back of the bus? Maybe those in the cattle car should be given/sold “relief” bags and the FAs or cabin cleaners can pick them up.

  20. Sounds like both the flight attendant and the passengers were stuck in DYKWIA mode and thanks to America’s bizarre post-9/11 laws it’s easier than ever for minor hiccups to spiral into major problems.

  21. If I had been the passenger I would have taken one additional action. I would have sworn out a warrant for the FA’s arrest for simple assault. With the fact that the passenger definitely had a rotator cuff injury…and assuming she did not board the flight with such an injury it’s logical to assume she received the injury aboard the flight; specifically when the door was slammed against her. 96% of the FA’s are great. The other 4% or so fall into a gray/black zone. If a warrant had been taken out the airline would have received a great deal of unwanted…but perhaps deserved publicity. One last thing: I would have also sued the FA and not just the airline

  22. If there’s a line at row 6 of economy passengers, and someone gets out of the F cabin lavatory, and I have to go and I’m in F I don’t care. I’ll just get up and quickly go into the restroom and cut the economy line at row 6.

  23. @ Al — In those cases I absolutely agree, but I still think first class passengers should get priority. The problem is that the line forms at the bulkhead, so when that happens there’s no way a first class passenger can use the lav.

  24. Well, here’s an interesting twist to the foregoing scenario. My situation was actually the reverse. I was on a transatlantic flight in coach on UA’s 757 plane. The lavatory for coach is right between F and Y. As usual at the beginning of the flight, the FA read from UA’s inflight manual, which instructed passenagers to use the lavatory in their ticket cabin. A drunk FC passanger (yes she was because the FA who was working in F acknowledged that) cut in front of all Y passengers by pushing a passenger aside and forced her way into the Y lavatory. Of course arguments ensued and the FC passenger threatened to sue everyone. She screamed off of the top of her lungs that she sat in FC so she could do whatever she wanted and use whichever lavatory she wanted. It was truly a comical sight.

  25. I have no problem with economy passengers using the 1st Class lav. While the implication may be there, and the airlines often announce that the intent is for the 1st Class lav to be used by only 1st Class passengers, I view all lavs as public spaces. Or, public by airline terms. People are always getting up and moving up and down the aisles on flights, so that doesn’t bother me in economy and it certainly doesn’t bother me in 1st. As long as they don’t sit on me, elbow me, or otherwise annoy me I don’t care.

    As to the lawsuit, I never really believe the injury stories. I suspect they’re the types that would show up in court with a giant neck brace on after a fender bender.

  26. Ditto what Jim Porter said — Alaska is the absolute worst for this. They routinely allow a long lav queue to snake from the cockpit door, back through first class and into coach and the FA’s won’t do anything to stop it even when you ask them to. I AVOID FLYING ALASKA FOR THIS REASON. (well that and the lack of power at your seat).

    I get that people need to pee, but I also didn’t pay 3x the price for my ticket just to have someone’s butt in my face for 3 hours.

    The simple solution is to hold the coach queue for the first class lav at the front of coach. That lets first class passengers still have first dibs, it lets people who paid extra not have butts in their faces, and it gives coach folks an extra lav. PROBLEM SOLVED.

    But the FAs won’t do that, so I usually take matters into my own hands. With right folksy nudging, you can usually get people to queue like that without getting the FA involved. But I realize that takes a special kind of person (think Brooklyn grandmother) to make happen. And more importantly, people shouldn’t have to do that at all!

  27. @lairdb “I.e., any FAA-approved airline policy is required by regulation.” So IF that is true and IF Alaska had a cabin/lavatory policy approved by the FAA, then isn’t Alaska and its FA violating FAA regulations by refusing to enforce it? And so on for other airlines.

  28. I once was in domestic F and while the FA’s allowed Y passengers to use the F lav, they at least tried to notice when an F passenger wanted to use the lav and forced the Y passengers to move aside so the F passengers could cut the line and go first. A creative and simple solution to the problem.

  29. Passengers like my mom who is elderly, cannot stand for a long time (e.g. to line up), needs to go often and is too modest to ask the FA or Y pax to get priority when she’s flying in J, is at a clear disadvantage, if Y pax can use the J restrooms.

    On the other hand, when she’s in Y, she would not even conceive of the idea of going to the J restrooms. Instead, she’d make the trek to all the way back, after she’s been looking back from her seat to see (many times) if there’s no one waiting for the restroom (which can take quite a while).

    As such, she would not be happy if she had the same issue w/ long waits if she’s in J.

  30. Don’t read so much into AS’s offer to pay. The medical bills were only $1500, and any legal fees-no matter how quickly they could get the case dismissed-would be more than that.

    That assumption that they might haven’t heard-incorrectly-that it’s against FAA regs is kind of far out. Most people don’t fly as much as you do, and who really listens that hard to those announcements any way?

    The whole situation is stupid and got out of hand. There shouldn’t be a lawsuit over it. Both parties were at fault.

  31. US flight attendants are like mall security or TSA, over empowered nobodies, after 911 people are starting to think they can use this against passengers. I will never take the word of a FA over a passenger, just as I will never take a word of a cop against a citizen. You would LIKE to think that people responsible for your safety or your comfort or well being can be trusted, alas, the world is not such a place these days. Cops shoot unarmed citizens and FAs abuse passengers daily, by fraudulently using security regulations against passengers. It all comes down to abuse of power.

    And when it comes down to it, you do not see SQ allowing Econ passengers up to use the washroom in other cabins, it comes down to airline policy. in the US FAs are like workers in a dive bar, they dont give a shit, and they dont want to be there, what kind of people are you going to have? surly bitches.

  32. Not sure how common this is but on a CX flight to Johannesburg on a 747 the FA’s kept the door locked the entire flight for the lav located between 1st and business to keep out the business class riff-raff that tried to use it. I never had to wait since they were talking or working in the galley the times I used it.

  33. I hope the couple wins. If they’re charging good money (either dollars or points/miles) for it airlines should respect premium cabin entitlements.

  34. In response to “A”‘s comment – “There shouldn’t be a lawsuit over it. Both parties were at fault,”, let me reiterate – we have NO IDEA what happened at all, we have one party’s allegations of what happened which may or may not be truthful.

  35. I’m surprised that AS allows passengers to queue near the cockpit door. Southwest routinely announces that no one may line up outside the front lav, and always enforces this policy.

  36. “I have no problem with economy passengers using the 1st Class lav.”

    You might not, and good for you, but other first passengers might (and it’s their right to have a problem with that).

    “The simple solution is to hold the coach queue for the first class lav at the front of coach. That lets first class passengers still have first dibs, it lets people who paid extra not have butts in their faces, and it gives coach folks an extra lav.”

    If you’re going to allow Y passengers into premium bathrooms, that seems like the best policy to use. A premium passenger should not have to wade through a line of Y passengers, or wait for a line of Y passengers, to use a premium bathroom.

  37. @ UAPhil — They usually make you queue behind the bulkhead at first class, so not near the cockpit.

  38. Another case of FA acting like they are from the FBI and they can make passenger’s life miserable by just writing or saying anything. They threaten passengers since they know they will get in trouble if they are in the “no fly” list. Similar situation happened to a family member on an international business class flight where the FA started to act she was the authority there and suddenly half of the cabin stood up and gave their business cards to my family member that she could contact them if she had any trouble because of the FA and they would serve as witnesses that the FA was over entitled and threatening her. By that time the captain came and the FA “disappeared” for the rest of the flight. No police was involved when the aircraft landed. Problem is passengers usually do not want to get involved in trouble for someone they don’t know but if more passengers stood up in these types of situations FA would go back to their job and not try to become FBI agents.

  39. We flu in this airlines, the experience was horrible, we depart from Oakland on the 9-14-2014, first class, seat 4D the tray table was broken. (no operable) then the flight attendant says I have bad news for you the tray does not work . Menu: 3 meal and 2 choice for the second, we order the 3rd option, again I’m sorry because you seating in the 4 raw, this meal was taken by orders passenger.
    We came back the 9-27-2014 the small tray that goes between seats was broken too.(first class again)
    When you enter the plain all the flight attend chatting, and ignoring the presence of the passenger, I look by my self, were our seat are. Not small cover provided, the air inside the plain was freeze.
    All the passenger from the plain, including the economic class, use our bathroom, when I used was really dirty. I never will fly again in this Alaskan airlines.

  40. I don’t see that anyone has addressed the issue that affects my husband. He flies Alaska Airlines weekly for his job. Because he’s a loyal customer, he earns MVP 75K status yearly, which gets him upgraded to 1st Class for about 90% of his flights.

    He has no problem with the occasional person using the 1st Class lavatory when they’re seated in the front area of coach and are blocked by the drink cart from getting to the back of the plane to their own section’s lavatory. Also in cases where the coach passenger is elderly or disabled. But this typically isn’t the passenger from coach using the 1st Class lav. I’ve witnessed most coach passengers using the 1st class lavatory being incredibly disrespectful. The past four times I’ve waited (long waits–15-20 minutes) for a coach passenger to vacate the lavatory in my section (which by the way, if you’ll look online at Alaska’s policies and advertisements, I’m told is ONLY for my use, as in my ticket purchase includes a dedicated bathroom solely for 1st Class). Upon entering the lav following these coach customers, I’ve encountered disgusting messes. I’m talking urine sprayed all over the toilet seat, on the floor, fecal matter smeared on the seat, a bone dry sink so clearly the customer didn’t bother to practice good hygiene and wash their hands following their defacating on the seat, throw up spatters on the toilet seat, sink and vanity….well, let’s just say beyond gross. I don’t believe that was done on accident. I think the resentment by some coach passengers is so intense they purposely leave treats for all of us “privileged” 1st Class passengers. I’ve had to grab the FA to clean up these messes before I could use the lav. In all of these cases when the coach passenger attempted AGAIN use the front of plane lav, I have to give credit to Alaska Air personnel–the FA halted them and told them they had to use the restroom in their section.

    Because we fly so much with Alaska, I can tell you this. I’ve never seen a line form at the front of the plane/galley area. NEVER. Sitting in 1st, I’ve even always been asked to stand by my seat in the aisle to wait as no line is allowed to form at the front of the plane. Yes, that is a federal law. If you ever see any FA allowing even one person to stand and wait in line at the 1st Class lav, you have every right to request your FA to ask them to step back to stand by their seat to wait (if seated in 1st) or behind 1st Class area if seated in coach. 1st Class passengers DO HAVE FIRST RIGHT & OPTION to the lavatory dedicated for their usage. No it’s not for 10 passengers whoever originally suggested that. It’s for the 16-20 first class passengers who paid for or earned the privilege. It’s for the two captains (who, trust me, sometimes have to use it a LOT on some flights), and it’s for the flight attendants (usually 4-5 people per regular sized flight). So if I’m seated in 1st Class, I’m sharing the lavatory typically with 24 other people.

    Let me also state that even though my husband has the highest status with Alaska Air that’s given, MVP Gold 75K, when he is seated in coach (usually is in seat 6C behind 1st Class), he has never, ever, not ONCE, used the lavatory reserved for 1st Class. He follows the rules. Period.

    Regarding laws, the last I knew, it was a federal rule that when flying over international waters, coach passengers could NOT use the front lav for obvious safety reasons. It was the only time flying on Alaska that I got to watch the 1st Class FA turn away every coach passenger. And yes it was clearly announced, three different times on PA, that this was federal law and it would be adhered to. Do you think that stopped about 20 different coach passengers from trying? Even after it was re-announced clearly on the PA and they could see ever the being turned away from using that lav?? Nope

    Additionally, something I haven’t seen addressed here…my husband is battling very personal health issues I won’t expand upon to protect his privacy. Side effects of those issues are two-fold. (1) He needs to urinate much more frequently. (2) His immune system is much more compromised. He chooses to pay out of pocket the upgraded flight cost at time of booking his ticket to have guaranteed 1st Class seating for his weekly work flights. He has every right to expect Alaska not to allow coach passengers to flood his supposedly reserved-for-1st-Class-only lavatory. The more people using the lav, the more germs you’re exposed to. He has the right to be sitting in an aisle seat and not have numerous coach passengers bumping into him going back and forth to a restroom not in their section, that they’ve been asked not to use. He has the right and the expectation when seated in 1st to expect a reasonable wait time for access to the lavatory he’s been told is reserved solely for his seating section’s use. He has the right to feel safe that there are only limited people allowed to access the restroom that’s adjacent to the cockpit door. Frankly, having flown partner airlines recently using accrued air miles, Alaska is the most lenient about allowing coach passengers to infringe upon the front lavatory. I think they should stop allowing anyone in coach who does not appear disabled or who isn’t elderly to use it. It’s not right, it’s not fair.

    No one is forced to fly and to fly in coach. If you don’t like it, take a train. Ride the bus. Drive. There are many other options of travel. Want to be close to a iav when you fly? It’s simple. Reserve your seat in the back of the plane on the aisle. You’ll have easy and fast access to three bathrooms. They’re the last seats to sell–you’ll have no trouble reserving one.

    I didn’t always get to travel 1st Class. Most of my life I traveled coach. Never did I ever resent those in 1st Class having a dedicated lav. They paid huge for their ticket or traveled a ton to earn the upgrade; why would I begrudge them a dedicated bathroom??

  41. The 1st class doesn’t even have a divider on my flight I’m sitting on right now. Coach passengers are allowed to place their carry ons in 1st class overhead. Several, not just one. This meant that two 1st class passengers had no where to put their carry ons.
    I don’t mind if one or two coach passengers need to use the bathroom when the cart is out. But 1st class passengers should be able to use it when they need to. 1st class passengers should supersede the line at the curtain, or lack there of curtain.

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