(CNN) – The flight was to last less than two hours, fast and painless. Instead, it turned into what a passenger described as a painful assault – and a lightning rod for what constitutes the correct airline label.
Wendi Williams, who describes herself as a teacher in Virginia Beach, tweeted the experience of an American Airlines flight in January.
In the footage she shared on Twitter, which was widely shared and viewed hundreds of thousands of times online, the man sitting behind her repeatedly pushed the back of her seat with her fist. He says that before he started filming, he was actually punching hard in his place.
Why? Because she has settled down.
The man’s actions – and Williams’ decision to recline in a row without being able to do the same – sparked a heated conversation on the label at 30,000 feet.
How did it happen
Williams was flying from a teacher’s convention in New Orleans to a connection in Charlotte, North Carolina, he wrote on Twitter. The video shows that she was sitting in the penultimate row of the cabin.
At one point in the flight, the man sitting behind her asked Williams “with attitude” to return his seat to an upright position so he could eat from the tray table, she said.
So he did – but when he was done eating, he said, he lay back on the seat.
It was then that he started “hammering away,” he said. “He was angry that I reclined and punched him about 9 times – HARD,” he wrote.
So Williams started recording it.
In the video, the man, who has not been identified, looks at his phone on the tray table and continues to push his seat so that it swings. He appears to be sitting against a wall and cannot recline his seat.
Williams later characterized the accident as an assault.
“I still have 1 cervical disc that is not melted,” he wrote on Twitter. “It’s scary bc [sic] this is the type of injury it could cause. ”
Williams did not respond to CNN’s multiple requests for comment.
He accused the flight attendant of ignoring his reasons
The woman did not share the details of her January 31 flight until this month. She tried to manage it with the airline through direct messaging but was not happy with fixing things silently, she explained on Twitter.
He said he notified a flight attendant as soon as the punches started. But the woman “looked up” on Williams and offered the man she accused of hitting her place for free rum, she wrote in a tweet.
After forwarding her complaints with American Airlines, she said the airline told her to contact the FBI to investigate her complaints. He did not seek help from the agency.
In a statement to CNN, American Airlines said it was aware of the “customer dispute”.
“The safety and comfort of our customers and team members is our top priority and our team is looking into the problem.”
American Airlines confirmed Williams Airways’ American Eagle 4392 flight on January 31, operated by Republic Airways but did not confirm whether Williams had filed a complaint.
On Twitter, Williams repeatedly called on the airline to release the identity of the man sitting behind her.
To recline or not to recline? It is divisive
But comfort and personal space are not among these rights.
However, when you fly, you are expected to respect other passengers and make the most of your surroundings. Punching the back of a passenger seat is rude, according to many of the people who responded to Williams’ Twitter feed. But was Williams wrong too, for invading man’s already limited personal space?
“Reclining is a way of saying that your journey needs, and only yours, counts,” he wrote. “People are fine with it, but nobody likes it when it happens to them.”
Many of them told CNN in December that the recline is impolite, particularly for economy class seated passengers who already have limited legroom. A reader said that because of her body type, if the passenger in front of her reclines on the seat, she loses the ability to use the tray table to work during the flight.
Airlines are also taking sides.
“It’s about protecting customers’ personal space and minimizing disruptions to in-flight multitasking,” said the spokesman at the time.
“If you’re going to recline in someone, ask if it’s okay first,” Bastian said. “I never settle, because I don’t think I should do something like CEO, and I never say anything if someone settles into me.”