Beauty Queen Sues United After Fighting With Husband and Being Downgraded to Coach

Carmen Maria Montiel, the 1984 Miss Venezuela and second runner up for Miss Universe, is suing United in what’s surely one of the most bizarre stories of a passenger behaving badly, an airline overreacting and getting law enforcement involved, and a pox on both their houses.

In 2013 she and her husband were flying from Houston to Bogota with their 14 year old daughter. She and her husband were in the midst of getting divorced.

According to reports of her story and lawsuit, they were flying up front and she asked a flight attendant for a pillow but was told United no longer offered them. She was.. not pleased. Still, she made due by “propp[ing] up blankets and la[ying] her head on her husband’s shoulder to sleep.” Remember, she and her husband didn’t like each other at this point. She says he slapped her, and pushed the flight attendant call button to complain that his wife was “invading his space.”

She and her husband reportedly argued and then he husband again rang the flight attendant call button to complain that the former Miss Venezuela was “still bothering him.”

Listen, people, flight attendants aren’t marriage counselors. And while I believe they shouldn’t merely be there ‘primarily for your safety’ I also think that if you’re the one created the unsafe situation it’s incumbent on you – not your flight attendant – to cut that out.

A flight attendant wrote up an incident report, asked her to sign the warning.

On American Airlines a flight disturbance report looks like this:

On British Airways you may be presented with a yellow card:

She refused to sign. Her husband further complained that she was upsetting their daughter. She changed seats — but the flight attendant instructed her to move back to coach. She refused.

Here’s what she claims happened next:

Montiel says that [Flight Attendant] 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.

She was indicted in federal court “on a charge of interference with a flight attendant.” However after the flight’s captain “testified that he did not authorize her removal or arrest” she was acquitted.

Airlines need to stop calling the cops on customers but choosing to travel with a spouse you’re divorcing and then getting into an argument while confined inside a metal tube for 5 hours is a very bad idea as well.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

More articles by Gary Leff »



  1. IIRC I bought Tommy a beer as a thank-you toward the end of the very first *Alliance Mega-Do?

    Am I the one who started him on his road to ruination? I don’t want that on my conscience. 😉

  2. Hope she wins and wins big. Husband should have been given the option to move (to coach if need be) if it was really bothering him that much. Even in first class you don’t have the right to decide who sits next to you. Why is United operated by such ignorant people?

    PS Don’t like the way United mistreats your fellow passengers? Write them here:

  3. This happened in 2013? Sounds like an attempt by United to gain some credibility for their flight attendants since obviously the beauty queen was properly warned and clearly violated the rules in flight. I am sure their are countless similar stories where the flight attendant was correct, and I am sure we will read several more as the fallout continues.
    None of that negates last weeks attack on the doctor, the amateurish response and amateurish second response by United’s CEO, nor the actions of the police, nor the actions of the flight attendant and supervisors of the flight attendant.

    For instance, was the doctor written up like the beauty queen? No. Apparently British Airways does this so often, they have a preprinted YELLOW Card. This story only makes United look more inept.
    I am looking forward to some real good fares coming from United as they try to regain credibility.

  4. Yes I agree w/Elias. As I’ve said before, I can see there being scenarios where an outcome similar to Dr. Dao might be acceptable. Supposing he just decapitated a fellow passenger (which I read about happening on a Greyhound bus before), then him getting knocked unconscious, bloodied, losing teeth would probably be an appropriate response.

    In this case, I don’t know– I think it’s ok for FA to have some power to take care of situations where there is violence, threats, and I’m sure they do have to take care of problems that occur between passengers also. Perhaps United needs to review their policies and make sure there is good communication between the pilots and FA, and make sure there is consensus before anyone acts. The crew ideally would be backing each other up with whatever decision was made. And agree w/Gary that calling law enforcement should really be a last resort.

    Again, greater authority and encouragement for crew to solve problems on their flights would go a long way– why not have this troubled couple separated for the flight, esp if there are extra seats elsewhere? why insist they have to sit/stay together?

    To be fair, I have seen crews on different flights handle difficult challenges well, so it isn’t everyone.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.