What Happened To The Passenger Accused Of Being Child Predator For Offering Up First Class Seat

On Thursday I covered the American Airlines ConciergeKey member accused of being a child predator by airline staff, after he asked a flight attendant to give his first class seat to an unaccompanied minor in coach.

After a flight attendant thought it was inappropriate, they had an American Airlines representative meet the flight on arrival in Dallas to confront the first class flyer.

After the issue received attention, though, American Airlines contacted the passenger – who shared with me what happened next.

[American Airlines] contacted me after and apologized profusely. The rear [flight attendant] completely misunderstood my request and thought I was trying to trade seats with someone else so I could sit near the group of [unaccompanied minors].

She felt terrible when she talked to the front [flight attendant, whom he’d originally made the offer to]. I was given some miles and learned a valuable lesson that I should ignore attempting to do anything nice for any other person whilst flying, lest I be considered a nonce.

For those of you wondering, there’s also no rule against switching seats on American Airlines even trading a first class seat for a seat in economy.

It seems that sex trafficking training for flight attendants mostly winds up meaning that they’re poorly trained and use their prejudices to identify when things are amiss. The same is true for hotels, where staff are told to look for customers who decline housekeeping; dress in cheaper clothes than their travel companions; have ‘suspicious tattoos’ or try to liquidate gift cards as payment. Oh, and if you don’t have luggage you may be a business traveler or a sex trafficker.

See something say something? As Bruce Schneier has said, ‘when you ask amateurs to do security you get amateur security.’

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 InsideFlyer.com, 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. Spot on! We’re a white couple who adopted a female black and asian baby. We finally had to carry with us copies of the adoption papers until they were older teenagers because of all the people who were given the one hour class on “how to spot a human trafficker.” We have lots of both funny and frustrating stories……

  2. Poor training again. So, what DOES a child sex predator look like?

    When it comes to unaccompanied minors, AA has a duty to protect those kids, and we have seen what happens when they fail. But its HOW you handle the situation that matters. That training is needed too. For instance, why didn’t the FA discuss with the other FA about her concerns? Better yet, why wasn’t this included in AA’s training? AA, and all airlines needs to continually review these failures and address them with better training. We learn from our failures, such as this one. The FA’s and gate agents are the public face of the airlines. They already have a lot of training. But training should never stop, and they should never stop updating and upgrading it. To many companies, regardless of being an airline or not, fail to invest in training. They are cheap. But cheap has a price.

  3. And why in the world would they think someone was trying to switch to be near them? That FA was majorly stupid!

  4. @ Gary and @Brodie – Looking at Gene’s comment through a different lens. I read it to mean he was saying the royal you can be nice. Not you personally. And unfortunately he is right- no good deed goes unpunished in today’s culture.

  5. @Gary, I’m pretty sure Gene didn’t mean Gary when he said you, but was referring to being unable to be nice to someone by switching seats without being accused of having ulterior motives. But, I can see reading it that way with the @Gary at the beginning.

  6. To a hammer, everything looks like a nail. This is what you get when you replace hospitality people with safety people. No good deed goes unpunished.

  7. I’m sorry there was an overreaction by a flight attendant, but sex trafficking is an issue.

    Some years ago I, then 40-something, took my 9-year-old nephew to London on a vacation. On arrival at Heathrow immigrations, the officer recognized that our names didn’t match and I was not his father. He asked my nephew pointed questions to understand the nature of our trip. Case closed, but I had no problem that we were given the once-over. Alas, I don’t recall the same happening when we came back to the US.

  8. It’s a sad commentary at the end where he says he won’t try to be nice to people on a flight. I totally agree with him. I put blinders on when I step into an airport. Help a woman with luggage and they’re insulted — got that twice before I learned my lesson. I waved a woman with a child in front of me at the TSA line and got scolded by an agent — you must apparently be served in the order in which you are received. A woman with a small boy asked if I’d take him into the restroom to pee — are you kidding me — no way!

  9. nobody doubts there are genuinely bad people and that some people need to intervene – including FAs with potential trafficking situations – but getting it wrong by the FA and AA on the ground has the effect of chilling good acts and isolating people.
    that is bad for society.

  10. Regarding the who is the “you” discussion above: That’s why Thing 1 always uses “one,” as in “one cannot even be nice to people anymore.” It avoids that confusion AND makes one sound hoity-toity and sophisticated at the same time 😉

  11. When it comes to my family and friends who are visible ethnic minorities themselves or have children who are at least in part ethnic minorities, it became quite clear during the course of their travels — more so for the males but also for “mixed race” couples — that when dealing with airline staff, border control types, airport security screeners and hotel front desk employees, that racist, sexist and ageist prejudices were routinely a factor in why their experiences of traveling with children or as couples is different than that of “more ‘traditional’ families” — “traditional” as per the view of KKK and neo-Nazi types.

    I don’t want to even recall the number of times in the past several months where I’ve seen CLEAR reps — often ethnic minorities themselves — apply racist and sexist prejudices as part of all this “stop human trafficking” stuff at airports.

    The biggest source of the threat children face when it comes to the risk of being human trafficked and abused comes not from strangers to children. It comes from the children’s own homes, their own relatives, their own schools, their routine after-school and summer break contacts whom are traditionally said to be “trusted”.

  12. Well said, Tim Dunn.

    Scaring people away from being thoughtful about the more vulnerable in society and engaging in altruistic gestures does neither the vulnerable nor society at large any good — it does the opposite.

  13. I was absolutely floored that the gentleman’s attempt at kindness was so wildly misconstrued!! How appalling!! Yes-trafficking is real & an ever present danger. But AA & airlines in general need to be sure this doesn’t happen again!! Thank you sir for being generous & making the attempt!! So sorry this happened to you!!

  14. I am confused. Was the child unaccompanied or in a group of children?

    Did the person end up sitting in the middle of a bunch of children?

    This is not as straightforward as made out in this and previous article. Why did he go to the rear FA and not let the front one deal with it?

    The FA has a duty to children and I am unsure this article explains all that is needed here.

  15. Geez, this guy tries to do a very nice thing and is confronted by FA and ground staff and essentially accused of being a sex trafficker. I would inquire with UA or DL if they would be interested in getting my future large amount of business in exchange for matching my concierge key status.

  16. All this reminds me of a white couple who adopted a couple of Native American children and took them to Europe. They said every airport they were in the kids (then teenagers) got additional screening. Apparently they were flagged as because they were different (cue America’s “Driving While Black:”), and that was enough.

  17. The apology from the company that the FA “totally misunderstood the situation” was actually damning to the FA….then why did she make such a serious accusation with out first taking the simple step of finding out? Really wouldn’t be that hard to figure out what was going on before you rush to start pointing figures.

    Karen…Hey what’s going on with that guy switching seats?
    1st FA…Oh he was making a nice gesture is all, seems like a real nice guy, he’s connecting on to London.
    Karen…Oh OK

  18. I still don’t get this. A child is in a Group of unaccompanied minors— meaning either he knows some other kids or he doesn’t, but the FA has them all in her sight as she should. So why would the FA allow one child to be separated from the others, no matter how nice a gesture it was? Her problem was not clarifying that with the guy who offered.

  19. Unless the FA was fired or severely disciplined nothing will change. Americans are a bunch of animals who don’t know how to think.

  20. I’m glad if he wasn’t a predator –
    But if there were a group of unaccompanied minors back where he traded the seat – the FA was being quite alert. Why trade a large seat for a small one when the unaccompanied minor was with a “group of unaccompanied minors” So how did he choose to be a good Samaritan to just one of the unaccompanied minors. Why would a first class passenger be looking at passengers in the back of the plane anyway?

    It sounds suspicious to me and why would that be better for the minor?

  21. I taught high school Math for 27 years. At the beginning of my career hugs were give liberally. At the end, we couldn’t touch anyone of any sex, student or colleague.


  22. James says “Americans are a bunch of animals who don’t know how to think.” James is obviously a troll who likes to categorize entire nations under one classification. Move on Troll to another blog.

  23. The horrible truth: sociopaths will learn the behaviors they need to gain trust and do what they want. If you want to catch predators, learn how the prey behaves, because the predator has an interest in you not caring, and will work to not be on your radar.

    Meanwhile, a white guy I knew in college got married to a woman from Taiwan. They moved to a SE Asian city, and had a couple of kids. Things got ugly, he got the kids, she was billed alimony. Pop goes out to eat with his teenage daughter, and white evangelical missionaries go up to him and tell him off for his sex tourism. How do you think his daughter felt?

    Y’all can say “I’m happy to be checked if it helps stop trafficking”, but most of the time, it’s untrained people working on racial stereotypes. It’s not the suspected abuser that you should be noticing, but the victims.

  24. I am very disturbed by this story too. Too many people thought that this guy was trying to molest this child. My question is if the child his seat. How was he supposed to know the child was with a group? The airline attendant should have said, thank you but he is flying with a group. That would have been the end of it. No, instead, she made it seem like he was a child molester.

    I have once been an unaccompanied minor (age 16) and went home to visit my parents (going to school out of state). I was detained in the unaccompanied child room. I guess the teddy bear made me look like a young kid. I had a seat in the back but because I was an um, I got to sit in First Class. That was fun.

    Stories like this makes me mad. This is why I do not to ever speak to anyone on the plane or give my seat to anyone. I read stories about passengers who are treated like crap because they won’t give up their seat for families who are separated from their kids. Too bad. If I paid for that particular seat or got to that seat first, I am sitting there. Do not ask me to give you that seat. If you give me (maybe) give me a $1000.00 I would consider it.

    The people who feel that this man is a molester really need to see who the real ones are then something like this happens. It is usually family, friends, etc. Yes, it can be strangers, but most times it is someone they know. Please, people would be stupid to try and molest a kid in a public place like a plane.

  25. Bubba,

    That reminds me of a “brown guy” who had a “white gal”friend who traveled together over the years and had done so across at least three countries. I had known them for years and years and ran into them again at a hotel in Stockholm where I often stay. One night they come into the hotel in Stockholm where I’m in the lobby and the friends get stopped on the way to the elevators by a hotel front desk guy (who happened to be of East African heritage) acting as a security guard of sort. The stop and line of questioning was such that he was suspecting the woman to be a prostitute and the man to be a sex buyer. The room they had been using all week was booked for two and the woman had her own key to the room and her stuff had been in the same room as the man’s for at least a handful of days. If the two hotel guests had been of the same ethnicity as each other, chances he wouldn’t have stopped them at all. Bigotry in action, very soon after anti-sex/human-trafficking training of the hotel staff had taken place.

  26. CDC Facts (NOT WIKI): Many children wait to report or never report child sexual abuse. Therefore, the numbers below likely underestimate the true impact of the problem. Although estimates vary across studies, the research shows:
    • Someone known and trusted by the child or child’s family members, perpetrates 91% of child sexual abuse.

  27. I would have sent an email to the company, found the emails to the board of directors and sent a complaint with the information from the flight. I would also follow that up with phone calls. She would not have a job soon. I hate people who think everyone is a child molester. I know a lot of people who think that. I have a niece who says that she hates parking in garages because there are people who will kidnap you for sex trafficking. I’m serious. But my question to those who think about that, why is it that the CDC says this: Many children wait to report or never report child sexual abuse. Therefore, the numbers below likely underestimate the true impact of the problem. Although estimates vary across studies, the research shows:
    • Someone known and trusted by the child or child’s family members, perpetrates 91% of child sexual abuse.

  28. What a minute. There was a GROUP of unaccompanied minors in the back? I don’t remember that detail in the previous post…..

  29. Thanks for the update. I read the story, but didn’t ‘study it’ so I wasn’t 1000% clear on exactly what his request was. We all have met enough flight attendants to know that some are very bright, some are downright dumb, and most are somewhere in the middle, just like the rest of the population. Seems to me that the FA who reported him should have checked with the FA up front. This was a very serious accusation, and one FA should not be allowed to take action like this without discussing his/her findings with whomever is in charge of the cabin.

  30. The point being missed was that offering to switch was highly unusual and a possible indication that the two were associated in some way. If a supposed unaccompanied minor has an adult hanging around them it might be an indication that the child was being trafficked. From my reading of the article the FA called head office and passed the issue to them. The result was probably not an accusation as reported but questions to clarify whether law enforcement needed to be called. Sorry a nice gesture backfired, but this is the world we live in.

  31. @drrichard. You are right; thoughts that Europe is racially enlightened compared to, say, Tennessee, are false. My wife & I are of different races. EasyJet out of Milan wants her to explain why we are on our way to x city. Or customs deciding they need to unpack our luggage, which does not happen when I am alone.

  32. Apparently the UM pre-boarded (as is norma)l, and was seated at the very back of the plane. CKs board next, so what the poster noticed while boarding was one kid seated by himself at the very back of the plane. It seems from the story that additional children boarded later as part of normal boarding and were also seated in the back of the plane, though it is not clear whether they had any connection to the UM (presumably note, or the UM would not have pre-boarded alone).

  33. Europe is no escape from racism, but the racism just plays out differently than in the US: less extreme police brutality and visible poverty but — adjusting for the welfare factor — but otherwise worse acceptance of visible ethnic minorities. Shouldn’t really be a surprise since the nation-state concept in Europe was fundamentally about formalizing tribalism and exclusion, with governing units to support such divisions.

    The anti-sex/human-trafficking initiatives meant to “spread awareness” to the general public and get more to “see something, say/do something” are hitting in Europe too. In Europe too it has opened a floodgate to racist and sexist profiling and is increasingly playing out like it does in the US with concerns about child abuse. However, in Europe, concerns about child abuse play out with a xenophobic angle even more extreme than in the US. But generally the gap between the US and Europe in such matters is narrowing, but not for the better. Social media and the internet otherwise have really given rise to a level of fear about risks that in itself generates risks with regard to the health and well-being of the public and its more vulnerable members.

  34. @james – rather than calling people names why don’t you read the article

    “Why do you want to separate him from his group?”

  35. Since someone asked… the way you are supposed to discern true threats are through behavior. In /real/ training, you are told that there is no such thing as a suspicious person, but rather suspicious behaviors. In /real/ training, you are told that children are often nervous in new situations (like flying), so it’s important to look for behaviors that distinguish such anxiety from fear of the person s/he is with. In /real/ training, you are told that a single odd behavior does not make someone suspicious, but rather a number of unusual behaviors. In /real/ training, you are specifically told not to discriminate against mixed-race families. Of course, real training takes more than the 30-minute briefer most airport/airline staff are given, so this is what you get.

  36. My guess is that she “misunderstood” only because that was the convenient way for AA to get out of that with some grace. If she misunderstood what she was told, then you would have think she would have voiced that concern to the flight attendant who told her of the offer and that FA would have clarified.

  37. @Uksurgeon
    I would hope you know how to read. Maybe a little more than read. Is reading comprehension necessary to be a surgeon in the UK?

    So someone making an unfounded accusation doesn’t mean it is correct.

    For example, why do like driving around children’s playgrounds?
    Have you ever driven around children’s playgrounds?

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