Monday, April 17, 2017
Another United Airlines Suit. What Is Wrong With This Company?
A former Miss Venezuela is suing United Airlines over a nightmarish midair incident in which a flight attendant handcuffed her and enlisted two burly men to forcibly remove her in a dispute that escalated after she asked for a pillow.
Carmen Maria Montiel, a Houston journalist and mom, recounted her ordeal in sympathy for Dr. David Dao, the United passenger who was dragged off a flight last week after he refused to relinquish his seat.
“I can only imagine how he felt,” she told The Post. “I will forever be terrorized for what happened to me.”
Montiel was sitting in first-class aboard a United red-eye flight in June 2013 from Houston to Bogota, Colombia, with husband Alex Lechin, a pulmonologist with whom she was engaged in a bitter divorce, and their 14-year-old daughter.
According to her account, Montiel asked flight attendant Samuel Oliver for a pillow, but he told her the airline no longer provided them. She complained to him about the service.
Montiel then propped up blankets and laid her head on her husband’s shoulder to sleep. But Lechin “slapped” her, she alleges, and pushed a call button to summon Oliver, telling him Montiel was “invading his space.”
The couple continued to argue, and Lechin again alerted the flight attendant that his wife was “still bothering him,” according to the lawsuit.
Oliver then presented Montiel with a written incident report, telling her it was a “warning” and she had to sign it. Montiel says she refused, but changed seats to move away from her husband — who had complained she was upsetting their daughter.
Modal TriggerWhen Oliver told Montiel to move to the coach section, she wouldn’t budge. Montiel says that Oliver, after huddling with her husband, recruited two heavyset men who handcuffed the 120-pound woman with plastic zip ties, grabbed her by the shoulders and carried her to the rear of the plane, sitting her next to an off-duty Houston cop. The lights were out and most people were sleeping.
“I never felt so powerless in my life,” recalled Montiel, who sued the airline last June.
Before the incident, Montiel drank less than a glass and a half of wine, she said. She denies widely reported rumors that she was drunk or assaulted Oliver, who complained that he felt “intimidated.”
Two months later, Montiel was indicted in federal court on a charge of interference with a flight attendant. During a three-day trial, the captain testified that he did not authorize her removal or arrest. The jury found her not guilty.
“It’s about the culture of United,” Montiel said. “They treat the customer as the enemy.”
She noted a 2015 lawsuit against United for making an emergency landing to eject a couple and two children, including an autistic 15-year-old girl, citing “a behavior issue.”
“They’ve done it so often, it’s gotten worse to the point of what happened with Mr. Dao,” Montiel said. “There is something terribly wrong here.”
When the video emerged showing Dao being wrestled from his seat and dragged down the aisle, Montiel’s three children texted her, “Look Mom, this happened to you,” she said.
Montiel, 52, was crowned Miss Venezuela in 1984 and represented that country in the Miss Universe pageant, where she won the second-runner-up title. She later worked for Telemundo in Houston as a television news anchor and was active in philanthropy.
Her suit against United, filed in Houston district court, seeks unspecified damages for mental anguish, malicious prosecution and defamation.