There’s been yet another reported groping incident on yet another airline.
A woman on an overnight Virgin America flight from Los Angeles to Newark, N.J., over the weekend woke up to find the stranger in the next seat massaging her genitals with his hand and rubbing his bare feet against hers, authorities said. Alarmed, she switched seats with her male friend, who was seated by the window.
But the man tried to smooth things over with the two, telling the woman’s male friend that “he wanted everyone to forget about the incident,” according to the complaint filed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Newark.
Then, to make amends, he offered to buy drinks. There were no takers.
The woman’s friend alerted the Virgin America flight attendants, who banished the man to a different seat and banned him from moving back. Upon landing in Newark, he was arrested by the FBI and taken into federal custody.
The passenger was identified by the FBI as Veerabhadrarao Kunam of Visakhapatnam, India.
Kunam, 58, was charged in federal court Monday with abusive sexual contact before being released on $50,000 bail. If convicted, he faces a maximum sentence of two years in prison and a $250,000 fine. He is awaiting a hearing and could not be located for comment.
The incident is at least the third mid-flight sexual incident this summer.
In June, a 23-year-old man was arrested after a 16-year-old girl reported he had forcibly kissed her and repeatedly grabbed her thighs during their Alaska Airlines flight from Portland, Ore., to Anchorage. Flight attendants separated the two after a bystander intervened, and the pilot diverted the plane to the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.
Also in June, Chad Cameron Camp, 26, was charged after an American Airlines flight attendant reported seeing him put his hand on the crotch of an unaccompanied 13-year-old girl. After the incident, the girl’s lawyer said the airline failed to protect their young charge.
“If I have my tray table down or my seat back two inches during the improper time, those guys are going to be on me immediately,” the lawyer, Brent Goodfellow, said. “This girl got abused for 30 minutes and no one was to be found.”
The family sued Camp and American Airlines for $10 million dollars, alleging the airline was negligent because it didn’t notice the abuse for nearly half an hour, CNN reports. A similar lawsuit was filed against American Airlines in September 2015 after a Pakistani doctor was accused of groping a different unaccompanied girl while she napped. The doctor was acquitted of criminal charges, but the family’s lawsuit against him and the airline is pending.
It’s hard to know how often these things happen because no federal agency collects such data. In 2015, at least three men were arrested in connection with sexual assaults on American flights, according to media reports.
In 2014, Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) introduced legislation that would require the Federal Aviation Administration to collect and maintain data on sexual assaults that happen on airplanes. It was not passed.