Southwest Passenger Assaults Woman Sitting Behind Him Using His Seatback

Software engineer Saarah Sareshwala was flying Southwest Airlines from Orlando to Phoenix on Saturday. She expected an uneventful trip after an enjoyable ‘women in computing’ conference. She walked away with a head injury, and she’s left shaking her head trying to understand why.

Ms. Sareshwala’s husband took to social media to detail what happened when the passenger seated in front of her slammed his seatback into her head while she was asleep against it.

This morning, my wife left Orlando, Florida aboard @SouthwestAir flight 1630 (MCO to PHX).

She sat behind this man. She had been attending the Grace Hopper Conference all week and was resting her head on her tray table, trying to sleep a bit.

Let me tell you what happened.

— Faraaz Sareshwala (@fsareshwala) September 25, 2022

Thinking she might have bumped the man's chair while sleeping, @saarahfaraaz went to the bathroom to check her injuries. Sitting next to her were a mother and daughter who were awake when this all occurred. They asked for ice from the crew for Saarah and confronted the man.

— Faraaz Sareshwala (@fsareshwala) September 25, 2022

When confronted, the man reportedly started dropping f-bombs. And – via a third party, to the man’s wife, to the man writing on Twitter – the passenger supposedly discussed having the opportunity to spill the woman’s drink on her, after drink service, by banging the seat back hard again.

After the woman conferred with her seat mates she reported the incident to flight crew who offered to move her to empty seats. She declined, preferring to stay behind the man but also near the witnesses who were helping her.

Police met the aircraft on arrival and took statements but reported to passengers they lacked jurisdiction due to events occurring in international waters, and that they would pass the case on to the FBI and ” if the FBI thinks there is enough evidence to press charges they will reach back out.”

What’s unclear about the whole thing, assuming everything unfolded as-reported, is motive. Why would the man bang his seat back on the woman who was resting her head on his seat back?

There’s no video. Corroboration comes from a napkin note that the man reporting the incident says was written by a seatmate, and a tweet from one of the other passengers.

Here's one of the pages that Gabi [last name redacted], one of Saarah's seatmates, wrote down:

— Faraaz Sareshwala (@fsareshwala) September 25, 2022

Twitter is assuming the motive for the man pushing his seat back hard.


— Valerie White (@trustingmyvibes) September 25, 2022

Some people want to cancel the man.

Do we have his name? Maybe his employer wants to know he is violent and racist.

— djhshopgirl (@Hjdshopgirl) September 25, 2022

She’d just come from a conference discussing violence against women and reports – via her husband – that she was made to feel voiceless.

We can’t know what was in her mind, or his, based on the information that we have. What we do know is that flying brings together all types from all backgrounds into a metal tube and squeezes people together in little space. They bring their baggage, their preconceptions, and their frustrations into the cabin. It’s surprising that doesn’t go badly more often, even, than it does.

Maybe she pushed his seat – without realizing! – and he reacted with disproportionate escalation. Maybe she really did remain in pain several hours after the flight. If there was an assault with physical ramifications – the woman says she didn’t even observe the incident, she was asleep, and the story is second hand based on the testimony of seat mates – then they should follow up with the airline, Phoenix police, and with the FBI.

(HT: @Emskilian)

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