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.

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.

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

Some people want to cancel the man.

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)

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. Why did he do it? We can’t know without getting into his mind, should anybody want to wade in there. But we just got past a so-called president who told those waiting for permission that it was okay to attack anyone who was different. Her name is East Indian, and as an excuse that could be enough. If the allegations are true I hope they throw the book at this guy.

  2. Stupid story that doesn’t make any sense – she was “resting her head on her tray table” when he “violently pushed his seat back in an attempt to hurt her”? So she was startled out of her sleep when he jolted his seat and the tray table? Yes, sounds very traumatic. I hope the FAs rushed and got her the ice she needed. Maybe she needs to go to the ER for a CT scan. Why are you wasting people’s time with these idiotic stories?

  3. Agree the story makes no sense, is based on hearsay, and seems purely designed for clicks. A necessity element of assault is intent. I’d be worried your title could potentially land you in the libel zone, Gary.

  4. The story doesn’t make sense as told. But I have been on enough flights to know that the strangest things can happen and obviously there was something out of the ordinary on this flight, or we wouldn’t be reading this post.

    I lose sympathy for anybody who writes a report of racial and misogynistic slurs without specifying what they were. Those adjectives are subjective words. Please, everybody, WRITE DOWN THE FACTS. What exact words were used? Censor them partially (e.g. “N word”) if necessary. Let others be the judge of whether they were inappropriate. Racism and misogyny are subjective. As Twitter demonstrates, there are a handful of prejudiced people who believe everything is racist.

  5. Forget racism and misogyny. Schoolteachers in rural deep south US think H-E-Double-Hockey-Sticks is a swear word and your kid will get detention for it.

  6. ^ referring to the note on the napkin about the man swearing.

    Look it seems very likely the man is a complete douche. I’m just saying we need FACTS not opinion.

  7. Gary, for once I think it’s inappropriate for the press and yourself to re-publish this man’s picture when there is zero evidence and all hearsay as it currently stands. I also find ot interesting that the “witness” who wrote on a napkin not only knows the woman’s name, but spells it correctly (leading me to think there were coercion involved). There is no reason given why the man supposedly did this, no medical evidence that the woman was hurt, and the Police didn’t charge anyone (admittedly as of yet). Thank goodness that the court of law isn’t based on Twitter and blogs where it’s just immediately accepted that 1) this person assaulted someone 2) he must be a racist and misogynist 3) let’s find out who he is, get him fired AND don’t him. All in the name of “getting justice” for perceived wrongs done.

  8. Is it possible for a white person to assault a person of another race or gender without it being racist or misogynistic and just plain assault?
    I feel like that complaint is wearing thin and is a pretty predictable response at this point.

  9. @Benjamin G we also have confirmational tweets from the woman who witnessed the man’s actions and statements. That is not hearsay, that is eyewitness testimony and is now part of an Official Police Report apparently. And calling two different women “bitch” IS blatant misogyny. While we do not know what racial slurs were used, the fact that they were used is evidence of racism at work in his actions.

    @Sharpay while the exact racial slurs were not posted, the exact usage of the term “bitch” in two different ways was provided. As far as I am concerned the use of that word alone towards two other passengers should have been sufficient to have the airline staff react that the man was being disruptive and unruly and needed to be told to behave, but that did not happen. Why?

    @Maurya in the complete story posted by the woman’s husband he explains that she “chose not to change seats because she felt safer with her current seatmates who witnessed the ordeal.” If she had moved to another seat there is a very real chance that a belligerent jerk might get up and walk past her new seat to go to the lavatory and maybe enjoy trying to freak her out as he goes by. Safety in numbers. Better the devil you know that the devil you don’t.

  10. This story seems fishy to me. In addition to the factors given by Benjamin G, who the hell rests their head on their tray table???

    Also agree with Sharpay that I want to know EXACTLY what this guy allegedly said.

  11. I’ve had people slam their seat back into my IPad hard enough that it would have broken had it not been knocked off the tray.

    The culprit? Sometimes the recline function sticks and they push back harder to compensate. Then when it does move the force is extreme.

    Did that happen here? Maybe. Maybe not. Just saying unless there was some altercation prior it seems unlikely this was intentional.

    Personally I hate the recline feature in economy seats. So part of me wants this to be assault and the FAA requires the function removed in the name of safety. But I suspect I’m in the minority here.

  12. Husband needed to do some ass kicking.
    Even against a larger opponent, if you get in a good first punch and follow up, they’ll back down. I’d fight a gorilla if someone ever did that to my wife. I’d use all four limbs and teeth if I had to but they’d remember me!

  13. Of course it’s a middle aged white male – they’re the worst offenders of this type of behaviour.

    The people in the comments going “well, what did she do” are truly ignorant and haven’t been paying attention. I’m a white Canadian and still know how horribly racist many Americans are. It’s just a fact people.

  14. Billy Bob, if you haf any brain cells you’d notice HE WAS NOT ON THE FLIGHT WITH HER. What ass kicking do you presume he do? Smfh typical male response.

    Brian L: Lots of people do. Planes are uncomfortable. It’s really dumb to see an article like this and have your first response be essentially victim blaming. Just because you wouldn’t rest your head on the tray, doesn’t mean others won’t.

    Don: pay attention. When you white men stop acting like this, until then yes. Or, when you die, whichever comes first.

    Benjamin. Maybe, just maybe, you think they got one anothers names before they started writing on the napkins? Oh silly little white men, you never think of these things do you? Always focused on disproving the fact that you white men are scum.

  15. I have had my I-Pad knocked off my tray 2x because of the seat in front of me being slammed back. Luckily it was knocked off, as it would likely have been broken otherwise. While leaning forward to reach my bag under my seat, I was knocked in the head (left a lump) by a guy slamming his seat back. Neither time seemed intentional. Seats in coach are made to recline without there really being room to safely recline. The guy sounds like a jerk for sure but the information we have is all second & third party so we don’t know the actual facts

  16. Don’t enable these people and their perpetual victim complex. They are part of the grievance politics party aka the democrat party.

  17. drrichard- did you mean Obama telling people of differing opinions to hurt them or Maxine waters saying go after them everywhere???
    what is up with the Police saying it was over international waters???

  18. According to Gabi’s note, Saarah was the agressor, having “bumped the man’s seat” first.

    Maybe Saarah shoved the sleeping man’s seat violently and repeatedly and all he did was recline his seat to create a safe space.

    Only Saarah, her husband and seatmates present their side.

    This blog should be titled “View From the Kangaroo Court”.

  19. Click bait! Please don’t publish the guys face when this is all hearsay. I put my seatback a few months ago and I smushed the person who was sitting with their knees against my seat. I didn’t know this and only knew it as my husband sitting in another row noticed. Did I mean to squish the person like a paperclip? Maybe the guy put his seat back and didn’t realize? We don’t know the full story so why post this? Surely you have better content to report on?!?

  20. “flight crew who offered to move her to empty seats. She declined”
    She will be partial responsible for the incident at court. Crew tried to deescalate the situation, but this woman rejected. Not sure what’s her intention, getting onto news and being well-known?

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