Carmen Maria Montiel, better known as the former Miss Venezuela, announced her plan to sue United Airlines over an incident that took place nearly three years ago.
Montiel’s impending lawsuit is only the latest round of bad news for the beleaguered airline. The company’s stock suffered a small blow earlier in the week, after a video of an Asian-American physician being dragged off an overbooked flight went viral. The doctor, David Dao, said the experience was more harrowing and humiliating than his escape from his home country of Vietnam decades ago. Attorneys represented him filed a legal action against United on Thursday, ordering the carrier to preserve surveillance videos and other evidence related to the forcefully denied boarding.
The former Miss Venezuela said Dao’s account reminded her an ordeal she suffered through in 2013.
According to Montiel, while flying en route from Houston to Bogota, Colombia, she buzzed a flight attendant to ask for a pillow. After being told United no longer provided pillows, she rested her head on husband Alex Lechin.
Lechin – somewhat surprisingly – was quite upset at his then-wife’s attempt to cozy up alongside him. The couple began arguing. Not long after, Lechin called the same flight attendant back to their row, complaining that Montiel was “invading his space.”
The flight attendant responded by presenting Montiel with a written incident report, which he said served as a “warning.” She refused to sign it and changed seats but was ordered to go back to coach by the attendant, who allegedly conspired with Lechin to cement the move. When Montiel refused a mandatory downgrade to economy class, two heavyset men zip-tied her hands and brought her to be seated next to an off-duty Houston police officer.
Montiel is the former winner of the Miss Venezuela pageant (1984).
Alex Lechin has defended his part in the drama by saying Montiel was drunk, belligerent, and “intimidating him” with her behavior.
Within two months, Montiel was in court facing charges of “interference with a flight attendant.” She was found not guilty.
Once the Dao incident became a hot topic in broadcast media, Montiel says her children watched, exclaiming, “Look Mom, this happened to you!”
Carmen Montiel believes her alleged mistreatment, coupled with Dao’s, is indicative of a dark undercurrent in United’s corporate culture.
“It’s about the culture of United,” she said. “They treat the customer as the enemy.”
“They’ve done it so often,” Montiel said, bringing up a 2015 lawsuit which was filed against United after the airline conducted an emergency landing to remove an autistic teenager. The mother of the girl requested hot food from a flight attendant, saying her daughter could become agitated if she had to eat a plate at room temperature. The crew diverted despite no behavioral problem or disruption transpiring.
“It’s gotten worse to the point of what happened with Mr. Dao,” Montiel said. “There is something terribly wrong here.”
While no mention was made of United or Lechin’s response to Montiel’s cuffing and mandatory downgrade, the former Miss Venezuela seems to be tapping into a sense of injustice which is surely making United’s PR team intensely unhappy.