Man Accused Of Groping Passenger Inflight Successfully Uses The Economy Class Defense

A man accused of groping another passenger on a United Airlines flight from Los Angeles to London Heathrow was found not guilty after using the Economy Class defense.

  • The man had been accused of groping a sleeping student sitting next to him while on the flight home from his honeymoon.

  • He claimed that stroking his thigh – “for up to two hours” – was simply the result of being crammed into economy. Where were his hands supposed to go?

The woman says she’d taken sleeping pills, and woke up be to being touched up. She told a flight attendant what happened, and the man was taken off the aircraft by police officers on arrival, arrested, and charged with sexual assault.

This all happened on a flight that departed New Years Eve 2019, landing New Years Day 2020. This was his second trial – the first one ended in a mistrial in February. The man, a financial analyst working for Russian state gas giant Gazprom, testified that he didn’t intentionally touch the woman. And he explained that though he was enroute back from Maui where he’d spent his honeymoon, he was traveling solo and his wife was flying on a less expensive ticket.

Van Den Bergh had told police in interview: ‘You try to keep a distance, but it is quite difficult in Economy.

…’At first [the touching] was light and unnoticeable but it gradually grew in confidence and after two hours I knew that it was intentional [the victim said]…’At one point it went towards where my underwear was, towards the end of my thigh and my bum. ‘I felt like he was picking at my underwear and feeling the contours of it, as though he was sort of lifting the seam a little bit.

In addition to claiming “economy” he said that this all happened while he was asleep. The jury took just 2 hours and 43 minutes to deliberate.

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 »

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  1. Disgusting that he was ever arrested in the first place. There is automatic reasonable doubt when it comes to things like this. Anyone can falls asleep and their hands can land anywhere. Some seats are wider than others and it depends on how wide a passenger is. It didn’t help the woman took a sleeping pill and then woke up not knowing what was going in. The man’s life was potentially ruined yet those who arrested him, the prosecutor, and the judge are free and haven’t been held accountable for what they did to this man.

  2. Bigger question – at least to me – is what does it mean his wife was flying back separately on a cheaper ticket FROM THEIR HONEYMOON?! Someone needs to tell the woman if he won’t spring for the money to fly back with him (in economy after all not business or first) from their honeymoon it will only get worse. Outside of societal issues that would keep them together (he is Russian and don’t know family, economic or gender issues that may be involved) I don’t see this marriage lasting.

  3. I’m sure that mister creepy groper dude will have a long and happy marriage. He sure seems the type.

  4. @jackson watterson exactly right. How the hell is touching someone’s THIGH sexual assault. This guy should nave never been arrested and had his life ruined when a simple “don’t do that” would have sufficed. The “me too” insanity was a shameful time.

  5. He must have been dreaming about his new wife. Seriously though don’t jump to defend a potential creep. While it may have been innocent or unintentional, my experience is that people being groped in public have a clear and undeniable experience of intentionality that feels clearly different than a hand slipping onto a thigh or a sleeping head falling on your shoulder. It’s happened to me and friends and family members on public transit and it was distinctly different than accidental contact. I think the idea of the perp is to make it just casual enough for plausible deniability. If it’s happened to you you’ll know it’s a real thing. Would I have gotten police and law enforcement involved? No but I’m not female so maybe she felt intimidated enough that she couldn’t speak up or switch seats.

    Without knowing all the details, impossible to know his guilt or innocence.

  6. What part of someone else’s anatomy some else touched is not the point.
    If someone cannot keep their hands to themselves during a flight in a seat which they bought with dimensions known, then they should either make sure they stay awake or tie their own hands together to make sure they don’t wander where they shouldn’t be.
    I’m sure he would have no problem complying if there was a guy next to him that knocked him up the side of the head to ensure there was no confusion as to the boundary line between seats

  7. Yeah that’s the bigger question. He not only flew back from his honeymoon without his new wife to save money but left her alone on New Year’s Eve. And he says she was in a cheaper ticket than him and he was flying in economy.! What was cheaper than that? BE? Stowage? Crazy routing with multiple connections? That right there tells me I wouldn’t give him any benefit of the doubt or believe a word he says. Probably more to the story than meets the eye

  8. @Larry
    In the US people are assumed innocent until proven guilty. The founding fathers made sure this was a bedrock principle of the judiciary. They had seen what happens in other countries to people when innocence is not assumed so they made sure America did not operate like that. Unfortunately, America seems to now be heading in to monarchy/oligarchy adjudication standards that the founders of this country were so against. It may not be bad for the rich democrats and republicans/oligarchy, but for the rest of society watch out.

  9. @Vijay

    Blah blah blah. Thanks for the civics lesson. That’s why I was saying he shouldn’t be assumed guilty or innocent, unlike the people who jumped to defend him immediately..

    But if you look at the circumstances, it sure seems like he was lying through his teeth. His wife was probably not his wife. And the honeymoon was probably not his honeymoon. Nothing in this story adds up

  10. It’s easy for accusations to be made that get people in trouble. Some people who are accused of some crimes are falsely suspected; other people are not falsely suspected. Where this falls in the spectrum of things was in the hands of the jury and the jury decided.

  11. @Jackson Waterson
    Maybe for the first time, I agree with you 100%

    Unfortunately, in this type of case men are almost always assumed to be guilty and must prove their innocence. Numerous parts of the US Constitution are being usurped by both the right and left wings to the detriment of our stability.

  12. Score one for the perverts! The idiot woman knew he was stroking her (and plucking at her panties) for TWO HOURS before she ‘realized it’? To those of us females who fought so hard for equality in the workplace (and the rest of life as well), women like this are insulting. She should be prosecuted for stupidity, with another count of trying to take advantage of today’s ‘me too’ climate just because she was too dumb to deal with this guy herself.

  13. Share your edibles with the coed/milf sitting next to you. Nothing like a leg stroke at 30k feet.

  14. This happens to much why women just cant yell! The whole flight would hear her and alert the crew the other passengers would back her up. Wow we film everything but you can’t tell a crew or people a guy is groping you on a plane crazy. Not saying its ok but god open your mouth and stay something what he is going to do to you with crew and people around he is out numbered

  15. I hope he sues and presses charges for the false allegations. Let this be a lesson to all men out there — never sit next to strangers, especially wahmanz. It’s a legal risk.

  16. People saying he wasn’t on his honeymoon or wasn’t married- seems like that would be pretty easy to find out if true for even a law student. Pretty sure if he lied about that it would have been easily found out in court.

  17. @ Vijay. Thanks. Larry needs a civics lesson (the people who need it most really don’t know what they don’t know)
    @hey Judy. All true and stupidity has become pervasive..

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