68-Year-Old Woman Spends Weekend in Jail for Switching Seats on Airplane

An airline passenger on a flight between Seattle and Alaska was arrested and spent three nights in jail because she attempted to switch her seat on the flight. The 68-year-old woman says an irritable and unfriendly flight crew overreacted to her need for some elbow room on the last leg of a cross-continental trip.

Jean Mamakos of New York left her seat before the flight departed and attempted to take an empty seat in an aisle that had an emergency exit, which affords more leg room. Mamakos said the flight appeared to be partially empty and she was extremely tired and wanted to be more comfortable. She says she was in a row with two other people and there were many less crowded rows she wanted to sit in.

After being told by a flight attendant that it would be a costly $109 upgrade to move to that seat in the roomier exit row, Mamakos attempted to speak to another flight attendant in the front of the plane. After an exchange with the flight crew, Mamakos said she returned to her seat only to hear the flight captain announce that a passenger wanted to get off the airplane. She says she was then swarmed by flight attendants who told her she had to get off the plane.

“No, I paid for this seat, and I’m going to stay here,’” Mamakos insisted.

Mamakos' actions upset the flight crew who called the Seattle police. She was booked for trespass and tossed in jail, where she spent three days, missing her ski vacation. Mamakos said that because it was a weekend, the courts weren’t open to hear her arraignment.

Now Mamakos is suing United Airlines for $5 million because she says the crew blew the situation out of proportion. She also said she was handled in an aggressive manner by police officers, who ripped her jeans dragging her off the plane.

United Airlines wouldn't comment on the incident, but a spokesperson for the airline notes that federal law requires pre-flight briefing for anyone seated in emergency rows, and added balance and weight safety regulations prevent onboard seat changes.

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