DURHAM, N.C. — A North Carolina woman and her daughter who say they were forced off a plane after they complained about vomit on a seat are suing Frontier Airlines — for $55 million.
Rosetta Swinney contends she and her 14-year-old daughter suffered severe mental anguish and emotional distress due to Frontier Airlines’ and others’ actions, the federal civil lawsuit states.
Frontier officials asked Swinney and her daughter to clean up vomit that wasn’t theirs, kicked them off the plane when they refused, and had Swinney arrested for trespassing and her child taken to a Nevada Child Protective Services holding facility in Las Vegas for 12 hours, the lawsuit states.
After the incident, the lawsuit states, Frontier defamed Swinney’s character by “disseminating lies” about her and her daughter’s removal. They were also subject to a “well-being visit” by N.C. Child Protective Services when they returned to their northern Durham home, the lawsuit states.
The lawsuit should be a warning to Frontier Airlines, said Sharika M. Robinson, one of a handful of Swinney’s attorneys from firms in Atlanta, Charlotte and Durham.
“Other moms and daughters who fly and may encounter things like this,” Robinson said. “They will know that you don’t treat people this way for refusing to clean up vomit.”
A lawsuit represents one version of events.
Frontier Airlines said in a statement after the incident that “the flight attendants apologized and immediately invited the mother and her teenage daughter to move to either end of the plane so that the seat area could be cleaned,” reported ABC11, The News & Observer’s media partner.
The statement also said “the mother and daughter were … told that once boarding was complete they would be provided other seats if available,” ABC11 reported.
Swinney, however, said the flight attendant never attempted to clean up the mess and did not reassign their seats, according to the lawsuit.
A Frontier Airlines spokesperson wrote in an email Thursday that the company doesn’t comment on pending litigation.
On Thursday Swinney and her attorneys held a news conference after filing the lawsuit. Swinney was present but didn’t speak.
Las Vegas wedding
Swinney and her daughter had attended a wedding and were flying from McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas back to Raleigh-Durham International Airport on April 19, according to the lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina.
When they arrived at the Las Vegas airport they learned the evening flight would be delayed for 20 minutes to clean up the aircraft, the lawsuit states.
When they were allowed to board, they reached their seats and the daughter placed her carry-on bag under the seat in front of her, the lawsuit states.
The teen then decided to move the bag to an overheard compartment and felt a liquid on her hands that smelled like vomit, it states.
She and her mother then noticed vomit on the floor, seat back tray and inside of the seat pocket, and pushed the airplane call button.
A flight attendant arrived and left and returned with Clorox wipes and rubber gloves.
When Swinney directed her daughter to get out of the way so the attendant could clean up the mess, the woman told Swinney “it was not her job,” the lawsuit states.
Another passenger asked the flight attendant whose job it was, and she “shrugged her shoulders” and walked to the front of the plane, the lawsuit states.
After waiting 10 minutes, Swinney walked to the front of the plane and asked for someone to return and address the vomit issues. Swinney also approached the flight attendant to ask her name and asked to speak to her supervisor, the lawsuit states.
The flight attended responded not to worry about her name, the lawsuit states, because Swinney wouldn’t be on the flight “no matter what,” the lawsuit states.
“One rude passenger”?
Swinney and her daughter then sat in two unoccupied seats. Another individual boarded the plane and demanded that Swinney and her daughter get off the plane.
Swinney refused, and local law enforcement eventually boarded the plane. All the other passengers were told “because of one rude passenger we are asking everyone to deplane,” the lawsuit states.
When Swinney did leave the plane, she was arrested for trespassing in the gate area.
A friend offered to take Swinney’s daughter, but officials refused, Swinney’s attorneys said.
Swinney’s daughter was placed in Nevada’s Child Protective Custody for 12 hours, the lawsuit states.
“She could see her daughter being removed from her,” Robinson said. “She was calling out to her and the officers. No one would tell her where the child was going.”
After the arrest, an airline official announced that the flight would be delayed due to a biohazard on the plane,” which lasted about an hour, the lawsuit states.
The lawsuit states that several other passengers’ accounts indicate Swinney wasn’t rude or confrontational, while the flight attendant was unprofessional and disrespectful.
The Clark County District Attorney’s Office did not pursue charges against Swinney, her attorneys said.
After Swinney and her daughter returned home, the visit from North Carolina Child Protective Services left the mother concerned her child “is part of the ‘system’ all because she refused to clean another person’s vomit” the lawsuit states.
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