A Woman Is Suing American Airlines After An Employee Took Her Number From Her Luggage And Started To Text Her
Airports can be strange places. But typically, when you’re in the airport of an unknown city, there’s a sense of freedom and solitude—after all, depending on where you are, the chance that you’ll cross paths with someone you know is pretty slim. But what’s the likelihood of running into someone you don’t know . . . but who somehow knows who you are? For Ashley Barno, this unlikely situation became a reality in June 2019, when an employee of American Airlines took her number from the tag on her luggage, then proceeded to text her incessantly throughout her flight.
The stranger sent a text that read, “Hey, Ashley! How are you??” before immediately following up with a “Btw I must tell you that you are gorgeous!” Barno thanked him for the compliment, asking him who he was and how he got her number. Also, why was he texting her?
He told her to “guess,” then added that he worked for American Airlines, the airline operating her flight from San Diego to Chicago. After telling her that he “just saw her again at the airport” and she was “looking very gorgeous in grey top [sic],” Barno started to feel nervous. She was wearing a gray shirt that day, and she did not like that this stranger was watching her—she said that the messages made her feel “naked in a public place.” She glanced around the gate area but had no idea who or where this person was.
Barno says that the messages continued even after she boarded her flight, when the man revealed that he was also on the plane.
Credit: Joe Samo
“You want to sit next to me?” said another text, promising that he could get her a better seat. “I have two seats open next to me!” he claimed. “Will you join me??”
Twice, he asked her for her seat number and told her that he wanted to “chat the whole flight.” He claimed that Barno herself had given him her number, and when she insisted otherwise, he eventually admitted, “Honestly I got it from ur bagtag.” Barno knew that the tag on her luggage also mentioned her full name and mailing address, which made the situation even more tense.
“Not ok!” she responded. “Not cool.” Then she told him to leave her alone.
What followed was a deluge of 10 more text messages, including one that read, “Friendship with me will be very beneficial for you!!”
He proceeded to promise her “good seats, access to the lounges and free flights too!! You can think about it!” he wrote, later adding, “Just looking for one chance to prove my self [sic]!! I will be very respectful to you always.” (As if sending a barrage of unwanted, creepy messages is respectful behavior.)
After this deeply disturbing experience, Barno hired attorney Joseph Samo and filed a lawsuit against the airline and former employee (who, at the time of the incident, was still employed by American Airlines) over allegations of negligent hiring, sexual harassment and stalking.
Samo said that during the flight, Barno was emotionally distraught, and she notified a flight attendant about what was going on, mentioning that she was receiving unsettling messages from a man in row 15. According to Samo, the flight attendant responded kindly, ensuring that Barno was in a completely different area of the plane and checking in with Barno regularly. When the airplane landed, security guards escorted the man off the plane—the flight attendant told Barno that “this wasn’t the first time he’d done something like this.”
While American Airlines did not answer specific questions about Barno’s allegations or the case, company spokesman Joshua Freed confirmed that the man was employed by American Airlines at the time, though he wasn’t on duty during the alleged harassment. He wrote in a statement that “the employee involved in the complaint is no longer employed at American Airlines,” and that “American Airlines takes the privacy and safety of our customers seriously.” He added, “We investigated the allegations and took appropriate action.”
But Barno’s complaint contests this claim. Although Freed declined to comment on past allegations against the former employee due to the impending litigation, the lawsuit claims that American Airlines “knew of its employee’s propensity to inappropriately contact its customers yet continued to retain him as an employee.”
The complaint, filed last week in a San Diego division of California Superior Court, also states that “American Airlines did not do a sufficient job in hiring and supervising employees to keep its customers safe from sexual harassment and stalking.”
Barno affirmed that she felt frustrated and neglected by the airline when they failed to respond to her concerns about customer privacy after the incident. In an interview with NBC 7 in San Diego, Barno described her fear when she realized they were on the same flight: “Just knowing that he knew what I looked like, and that we were on an enclosed plane and that there’s no way out, like really, really scared me.”
Samo validated Barno’s feas, reiterating the need for action on the part of the airline. “We’re doing this to send a message to big corporations that this behavior is not acceptable,” Samo said. “They have to train their employees better and take better precautions to make sure these things don’t happen again.”