Is this enough compensation for being locked in the bathroom?


United Airlines flight 6260 from Los Angeles to Bozeman, Mont., experienced a little mechanical problem on July 2. One of the bathroom doors jammed on the Bombardier Regional Jet 700 operated by its codeshare partner SkyWest, and Barry Freeman was the unlucky guy trapped inside.

Freeman and his lawyer recently contacted me with their story and to ask if the compensation United had offered was sufficient. If not, they wondered, could I do any better?

Well, it just so happens that on most Tuesdays, I write a feature called “Is this enough compensation?” With your help, I’m happy to ask — and try to answer — that question.

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Here are the details: About half an hour into the 2 ½-hour flight, Freeman got up to use the restroom. He explains what happens next:

I could not exit the restroom (which is a small compartment) due to a failure in the locking mechanism.

I commenced banging on the door and kicking the door (notwithstanding significant back surgery in December of 2012). I could not open the door, nor could the steward. Being confined in this tight compartment with the smell was certainly unpleasant, let alone nausea and anxiety producing.

The steward attempted to open the door. He could not; the co-pilot exited the cabin and likewise attempted to open the door. He likewise could do nothing.

There is no device available in this situation to force the door open and my consistent kicking and hitting the door was useless. As it turns out, the cause for this situation may have been the failure to maintain the locking mechanism, which had corroded and would not function.

Attempts to break open the door continued for almost half an hour, to no avail. Then, shortly before landing, they handed an axe to a former fire chief from Torrance, Calif. (seriously — I’m not making this up).

“The upper portion of the door was pried open and I was able to climb out,” says Freeman.

The plane diverted to Salt Lake City, where Freeman was met by five paramedics — an experience he called “humiliating.” Eventually, United found a new plane and got everyone to Bozeman.

But Freeman was unhappy.

He says although the crew was cooperative, no one from United followed up or showed any concern for his well-being or offered any accommodation for the trauma experienced. When he complained to United, it offered a $150 flight voucher, but asked him to sign a release. He didn’t.

“This was insulting and obviously [we] declined and we will proceed to litigation if this cannot be amicably resolved,” he says.

I also heard from Freeman’s lawyer, Michael Dempsey, who reiterated that a $150 flight voucher wouldn’t cut it.

“I will recommend he settle for two first class tickets on United from LAX to London, and return,” Dempsey told me. “If you can help resolve Mr. Freeman’s claim, he would be grateful. Otherwise, we shall proceed.”

So what should I do here? On the one hand, the first-class-ticket-anywhere-your-airline-flies is a little bit of a cliche, but on the other hand, this guy spent almost the entire flight locked in the bathroom. Technically — and I mean that in the most generous sense of the word — United fulfilled its contract of carriage, transporting Freeman from Los Angeles to Bozeman. But under what circumstances?

Dempsey and his client could file a negligence action in state court, likely in the California small claims division where Freeman would be limited to $10,000 in damages, but it would be an uphill battle according to one of my editors who happens to be a lawyer.

Parenthetically, this isn’t the only “locked in the bathroom” passenger that threatened to go all litigious. Here’s a British Airways case where emotional damages were claimed, but eventually dismissed.

I think all of this could have been avoided if the airline had bothered to call or write and show just a little bit of concern for a passenger who by all accounts had a dreadful flight.

So should Freeman take the money and sign the release or take United to court?

Did United offer Barry Freeman enough compensation?

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142 thoughts on “Is this enough compensation for being locked in the bathroom?

    1. I would go with that – but his tone above was over the top, so who knows how he even approached them? REALLY – it is humiliating to be taken by paramedics?

  1. A full refund for the flight would seem to be a fair settlement. But, I don’t get the 2 1st Class to London, sleazy. Just sue for the monetary value of whatever you feel the damages were.

    1. In fairness to the LW, it’s actually appropriate to ask for something in lieu of money. Getting goods or services from the opposing side is usually easier than the retail cash equivalent. When done correctly it’s a win-win.

      1. I agree, it is often appropriate to ask for something specific rather than cash. However, the requested settlement should be roughly commensurate to the supposed harm done. In this case, a R/T to Bozeman, or maybe even anywhere in the US, would seem to be fair compensation since no long term harm was reported by the OP. But really, 1st class to London, and for 2 people?

      2. I would have to agree that asking for non-monetary compensation should make United more cooperative. Two r/t FC tickets to Europe might not be so unreasonable. I’m sure United’s revenue department can figure out a couple of dates that have excess FC availability, and offer them to the OP as non-revenue tickets.

        At first the OP sounded unreasonable, but those bathrooms are SMALL, and filthy, and putrid. And based on the time line, it sounds like he was stuck in there from 1 1/2 – 2 hours. Stuck in a stinking confined space while being jostled around in flight for up to two hours? Yeah, I think United owes him a lot more than $150.00

          1. I notice in his description he very carefully talks around how long he was actually confined. *Warning bells*

          2. Yes. Inconvenient — but only 1/2 hour does not warrant a HUGE
            rebate. “Entitlement” I doth see here. We know all about that.

    2. If I were on the jury, this case would be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. Due to United’s error (or the partner’s error), Freeman was locked in the bathroom. They had a very effective way to get him out (pry the door with the ax), but waited till the plane was about to land to do that. It sounds like a decent false imprisonment case to me.

      1. You are missing a critical element, willful detention. Assuming that it even got to a jury, and a jury sided with the LW, a judge would kick it on a JNOV, i..e overturn the verdict.

        1. A jury could easily find willful detention based on the flight crew’s apparent unwillingness to use the ax until the last minute. Could go either way of course, and would depend on what the flight attendant and other passenger testimony was. Certainly not a JNOV. Knowing you have a way of releasing somebody you trapped by accident, and choosing not to use that tool, could be willful detention.

          1. I’m not altogether sure the crew “waited” to use the axe… As I stated above, the LW very carefully talks around the actual timeline, so I think the events are a bit murky.

          2. Fair enough. As I said in my last comment, the actual testimony of the flight crew and passengers would be critical to such a claim. Not that the airline would ever go to trial on a case like this.

          3. Impossible…

            From Findlaw

            [t]he person doing the confinement must have intended to confine, and not have the privilege to do so…

            Examples of false imprisonment may include:

            A person locking another person in a room without their permission

            In the example you just mentioned (“trapped by accident”) as well the LW’s scenario (“corroded locking mechanism”), no one, including the LW, is suggesting that someone intended to lock him in the bathroom, thus a necessary element, i.e. intent to confine, is lacking.

            Edited. I would add that even the LW’s attorney doesn’t believe that scenario. He asked if the compensation was enough. Doesn’t sound like anything an experienced attorney would say if he believed he had a false imprisonment case worth 100s of thousands.

            You might have a negligence claim or a breach of some duty, but no chance on False Imprisonment.

          4. As I noted the other place you said the same thing: if they had a way to get him out but decided not to do it until the plane was about to land, “intentionally” would be satisfied.

            Again, I’m operating from the assumption that the story as retold by Freeman and Chris is accurate — i.e., that they tried some things and those didn’t work, then they let him languish in there until the plane was about to land when they finally used the ax. I tend to agree with those who find that story unbelievable (mainly because I generally don’t think flight crew are likely to commit a false imprisonment) — I’m just analyze the facts presented.

          5. I think you are saying that the intentionally left him in there. Perhaps, but the requirement is that they intentionally locked him in there. A corroded locking mechanism is not an intentional locking. Reckless perhaps. But there is no intentionality there. You cannot reasonable conclude that they wanted him stuck in there.

            I’m filing a demurrer.

          6. The findlaw article is wrong. At least under the “traditional” common law, and in most states, if you allow somebody to remain stuck in an area for which you have responsibility and can get them out, that is also false imprisonment. The intentionality comes from intentionally not freeing him when they knew they had a way to do it.

      2. This kind of attitude is exactly why every Tom Dick and Harry wants to sue for the slightest little thing.

        Big deal he was locked in a bathroom; he wasn’t hurt, or scarred for life. People don’t deserve a stack of money for every single thing that goes wrong for them in life.


        1. Then change the law. For several hundred years, false imprisonment has been something you can obtain a remedy for in court.

          1. No need to change the law. There are legit cases where someone needs to be punished for holding you against your will.

            This isn’t one of those cases.

            How about everyone stop whining so damn much? The courts wouldn’t be clogged with this type of crap if people weren’t getting huge paydays for nothing.

  2. Chris,

    Don’t get suckered into this. Mr. Dempsey doesn’t expect that you will be able to negotiate behind the scenes better than he can. Attorneys of his vast experience (45 years) don’t ask lay persons for assistance without good reason. What he wants is to use your bully pulpit into shaming United into a better offer.

    I generally don’t subscribe to the notion that a LW is hoping that you will shame the travel provider, but in this case, it’s clearly what’s happening here. Perhaps Mr. Dempsey will put you on retainer.

    As far as the specifics, I would think a refund or perhaps a 1k voucher should be sufficient. Maybe 25k miles.

    I agree with your attorney/editor. This would be a very difficult case to recover more than a refund of his flight cost.

    Btw. The limit in CA small claims is 5k; $7,500 if the plaintiff is a natural person, i.e. not a corporation, partnership, etc.

    1. 2 free 1st class tickets to London, ha!!! Why not ask for a tour of the Willy Wonka Chocolate Factory as well!?

      Tell this clown to GTFOH, I tend to lean towards this case is worth a full refund, some miles, and two tickets in the lower US.

      It’s worth more than he was offered, but way less than what he wants…

    2. @Carver,

      Absolutely agree with you, LW’s lawyer is using Chris here.

      But you are wrong on the CA small claims limits; As of 1 Jan 2012, the upper limit is $10,000 for natural person.

      I got that directly from the official California Courts website’s discussion of “How Much Can You Sue for in Small Claims Court?”

  3. As I was reading the story, I was thinking, shouldn’t there be an axe on board? (I wasn’t quite sure if axes were carried, since I gave up flying commercially several years ago, but given that they are standard equipment on trains, I would think the same holds true on airliners, notwithstanding “security” concerns.) And then I continued to read that the situation turned out as it should have, using the axe to chop down the door.

    It was an inconvenience. There was probably negligence on the part of Skywest in failing to maintain the door. It was not the end of the world. I don’t know what the “going rate” might be for such inconvenience, but I think fair compensation would fall somewhere between 100 percent and 200 percent of the cost of the transportation involved, plus a personal letter of apology.

    1. There is a “crash axe” on every commercial aircraft.

      In the OP’s position, I would just ask for a refund of the flight. Once you get into large-scale cpmpensation not directly connected to the problem you faced, you’re in lawyer territory. You then have to go for enough to pay the legal costs. A refund request for just that flight could have been settled in Small Claims.

      1. I think we’re both in the same arena as to the magnitude of the inconvenience and recompense. When considering the question, I had in mind the quantum of compensation mandated for denied boarding, which if I recall correctly may be 100, 200, or 400 percent of the ticket value (depending on the circumstances and subject to certain dollar limitations). To me, this type of inconvenience seemed on par, roughly, with the inconvenience of denied boarding, and for that reason I thought that compensation someone in the range of 100 to 200 percent was “about right.”

        (That there is a requirement axes be onboard is good to hear, though it becomes increasingly difficult to understand the rationale of subjecting airliner pilot to “security screening” for knives and other potential weapons.)

  4. Back away. Do not pass Go. Do not collect $200.

    If he had started with a reasonable request like a full refund of his ticket and the equivalent amount of miles, I would be saying something different even with the playing of the travel deck of misery (back surgery!, the smell!). However, after reading this, I almost wish they sent him a bill for the damage to the door.

    Just in case I am not coming across as sympathetic enough, I will mention that I had a spinal fusion in Feb 2013. I likely would not be able to consistently kick the door nor climb through the upper portion of the pried open door easily. Still wouldn’t mean 2 first class tickets to London was an appropriate resolution in this situation. :/

  5. Two first class tickets to London? An attorney wanting you to solve the problem? And then the sympathy grab with his back surgery? UA should simply refund his ticket price and be done. But in any case the LW’s attorney should be handling everything. You should not be involved.

    1. Out of curiosity I looked at the price of LAX-LHR on UA in First Class. Discounted/Restricted First Class is $7,705 per ticket on some random dates several months out. Refundable First Class is $23,231 per ticket.

  6. Step away from this, Chris… I agree it would have been nice (and probably appropriate) of the airline to refund his flight and give him a small gesture of goodwill… But here are my problems:
    1. He lawyered up immediately
    2. He makes a point of bringing up his back surgery and the trauma this induced, but is annoyed that the airline met him with paramedics?
    It seems to me that the airline did everything possible for him during the incident (which, yes, was probably uncomfortable.) They chopped down the door. They diverted the flight. They checked him medically.
    This is someone looking to get everything he can.

  7. A recurring theme on this site is that once legal action is threatened, a consumer advocate will get nowhere. Obviously, $150 in vouchers is never going to make someone content enough to walk away. Also obviously, the absence of physical injury or illness in the passenger will limit the monetary rceovery on court. The fact that the trapped man could spend a half hour kicking the door argues that he was in pretty good shape and uninjured by his not quite ordeal. Furthermore, the vigorous action by the crew in attempting to free him and eventually destroying their own property in order to release him surely counts as mitigation. He’ll lose in court, beyond a token judgement, perhaps.

    If the airline had offered something that was not an insult, this case would not exist. My verdict: Refund his ticket as compensation. One free round trip ticket for the same value flight as “make nice.” A letter from the second assistant to the CEO apologizing and promising to have inspection (and repair if needed) to every locking mechanism on every one of their planes. The man can then take his lawyer out to dinner and have a nice laugh.

    1. Would agree they could offer him more – but if his tone with them was as bad as it was above – not likely they’d be too sympathetic. He sounds far too elitist.

  8. I made it to the first sentence of the second paragraph before the alarm started going off in my head sounding like Robby the Robot from Lost in Space … “Danger Chris Elliott… Danger”

    The whole paragraph that you quote looks to be written by his lawyer. Could we have a little more drama? Also, he has medical complaints, after all it was traumatic and anxiety producing plus he has a bad back, so when they land he complains that they got him medical attention? Anyone care to bet that he would have complained if they hadn’t.

    In the long run, UA should have refunded his flight. I’m also willing to bet that his lawyer is really ticked that Chris only ran this on his website instead of in a national pub.

    At this point, if I’m UA with a law department on staff, I call his bluff…

    This is a guy that thinks he just hit the lottery….

    Edit: For those into 60s – 70s shows, I caught that it was just “the Robot” who was the character in Lost in Space although Robby was in one episode….

  9. @Christopher Elliott, you need to add a 2nd question to the poll: “Is Mr. Freeman demanding too much compensation?”

    I mean really, if the OP’s lawyer can use you to promote his case, you’re entitled to do a little pushing back of your own.

  10. He has already gone the lawyer route. Nothing else to do here, move along.

    Yes, being stuck in an airplane toilet is not the most enjoyable way to spend your flight. But it is not worth even one 1st class ticket. The commentary by the LW (Small space!! The smell!! My back surgery!!!) was almost humorous and definitely well rehearsed through the lawyer.

    Are we sure the LW didn’t do something on purpose to break the lock hoping to receive a massive offer from the airline? 😉

    1. I would doubt he purposely broke the lock…it seems to be a pretty risky venture as far as a way to make a profit. But I would definitely call this opportunistic.
      And definitely a smart move by the airline to have him met by paramedics. Otherwise, I’m guessing there would have been an unverifiable lasting injury added to the lawsuit.

    2. I highly doubt that Freeman sabotaged the lock. There is mention that corrosion was the cause of the malfunction. I agree that since Freeman has gone the lawyer route, Chris should stay out of it.

  11. Well, there is one thing worst than being locked inside a plane’s bathroom. And that’s being locked outside a plane’s bathroom.

    1. Can’t wait to see if any of the other 66 pax (assuming the flight was full) start sending Chris requests for help for compensation based on their horrible flight to Bozeman where the only bathroom was unavailable for some large portion of the flight, and then offered no privacy for the rest of the flight because the door was pretty much destroyed!

  12. Ok people, he was locked in the BA. Since it was 1/2 hour after the flight started and they got him out 1/2 hour before it ended, on a 2 1/2 hour flight that means he was in the BA for 1 1/2 hour. Not for a day but only for an 1 and a 1/2. How much is this worth, not much. He did get to his destination. Nothing in life is perfect, if there is any inconvenience, they sue. Personally I would not want it broadcast nationally that I was locked in the BA. Good grief. Besides is it really any more uncomfortable than the economy seats.

    1. No – the flight was diverted to Salt lake City, remember? Usually 1:45 flight time. It means he probably spent less than 1 hour locked inside.

      And we need to consider that he only started to worry about being locked after finishing what he was doing inside. It should decreases the “lock-perception” by 10~15 minutes, I guess…

      1. Agreed, he was not in there very long for all the fuss.
        Get over it. You should get nothing.
        Besides, who knows what he was doing in the BA and how long it took. 🙂

  13. Refund is starting point. A free coach domestic voucher would be a fair addition. Or a two for one first class international voucher. 🙂

  14. Well of course the $150 voucher wouldn’t satisfy his lawyer – how would he collect his 1/3 contingency fee from that? And how much would that be anyway, $50?
    But seriously, two first class tickets to London? That seems a little ridiculous too. I’d just file a lawsuit in small claims and go for the cash. Mr. Freeman might be suing the wrong company anyway, since the incident happened on a commuter jet owned by SkyWest. United would move to dismiss on that basis alone.

    1. Depends on the relationship. I’m assuming that he bought a United ticket. Both United and/or Skywest might be liable.

  15. I said there had been enough simply because of the attorney’s actions. That sort of ambulance-chasing “I want it all” is just trashy, I think. A full refund would be nice, but the overboard demand negates my concern.

  16. 2 First tickets LAX to LHR is not an exaggeration for this incident and disagreement.
    How many time a week United fly with 2 empty FC seat LAX-LHR? Most of the time, I see many United Pilots in FC in Transatlantic flights (1 FC seat is always reserved for the pilot).
    Other Airlines hand out 2 first class tickets for less than that.
    Once Northwest Airlines, asked me for volunteering my FC seat (Detroit to Montreal, a 2 and half hours flight) for 2 First Class Tickets anywhere in World because they need my seat for a US Marshall and a prisoner (the FC seat next to me was empty and the last seat on this flight). But this case I guess the US Gov will pay for the compensation.

  17. If there had been a real emergency during the flight that required evacuation of the plane, he would have been toast. I think that 2 business class tickets is good compensation.

  18. Definitely an unpleasant experience, and $150 is a ridiculously lowball offer, but if Freeman’s attorney really thought they had a case, would he be asking Chris for help? Freeman actually lost me when he said that having five paramedics waiting for him was “humiliating.” Whine much?

    1. Trying a case in the media is an attorney tactic that’s independent of the strength of his client’s case. It’s about whether the client and case will garner the appropriate level of empathy.

  19. Well, it’s foolish in the extreme to assume that United doesn’t read this website. Since he’s choosing to pull the “Lawyer Card” on a public website, moderation by you is now impossible.

    On another note, he had a back injury, nausea, and anxiety, but is ALSO complaining that they diverted the flight and had paramedics meet him? Reminds me of the long-ago letter of a lady that got extremely ill on a Southwest flight, could barely walk, but wanted Southwest to pay the ambulance and ER bill because they had the temerity to think she might require medical attention.

    1. The attorney isn’t looking for Chris to moderate. He’s looking to shame United into a settlement. No attorney is going to look to a lay person to advocate on his client’s behalf.

  20. I think he is due more than the $150 offered, but I think he is asking for way too much. The airline did everything they could to help him get out, and they diverted the plane and made an emergency landing. Also, LAX to SLC (where they landed) has an air time of ~1h 20m, he got up to use the restroom after half an hour, and they freed him before landing. So he was in there less than an hour. I have been on that exact plane many time, he had more leg room and comfort in the restroom than all but the front row of F. That said, I would actually favor a full refund in this case, even a full refund and some miles or a voucher. However, I am so sick of people thinking everything is a pay day and getting lawyers and suing. No offense to the good lawyers.

    1. I just checked at Flight Aware, the average ticket price for this route is $237,53.

      UA is offering about 2/3 of the average ticket price.

    1. In California small claims is not particularly backed up. He would be in court in a couple of months depending on the county.

  21. I going to speculate that this scenario is VERY, VERY rare. Given that, I’d laugh at the afterthought and then politely thank the many who tried and eventually succeeded in getting me out. Included would be the paramedics. Seems to me they all did a great job of handling a peculiar situation.

    In terms of compensation, given the smell he may have endured and the less-than-comfortable seating, I’d accept two vouchers for a round trip flight within the lower 48. United should do a little better than they have, but no more than that …

  22. I can totally see how this could be both humiliating AND traumatic. As silly as it seems, being confined to the interior of a flying metal tube can be anxiety-inducing enough for some. Add to that the fear of being locked in a confined space that is basically just a porta-potty in the sky. I would be hysterical. Round trip first class tickets is the least they can do. Fair IMO.

    1. I’m not claustrophobic, but I am sensitive to smells. The stink from the stall’s deodorizer mixed with bathroom stench would lead me to gagging, wheezing and throwing up. A couple minutes I could withstand, but up to an hour would be agony.

      And oh boy would I be humiliated. He got to be everyone’s in-flight entertainment, had to crawl over the door after they used an axe to break it down, and then he was the reason the flight was redirected to another city and all the passengers were delayed before being placed on a new flight. Yet he receives only a lowball offer of airline funny money, so I can’t blame him for pursuing this even harder.

  23. Being claustrophobic, getting locked in the lavatory would be hell on earth…er in air, for me and even I wouldn’t ask for anything more than a refund of my flight…and perhaps some tiny bottles of alcohol to fuzz the memory 🙂

      1. 125%. Once an attorney is involved, all communications go directly to legal. That’s why I always caution clients never to threaten the other side with an attorney if you want to resolve the matter amicably.

  24. I noticed OP never stated exactly how long he was locked inside the lav…

    Drilling down the case description:

    About half an hour into the 2 ½-hour flight, Freeman got up to use the restroom.

    I could not exit the restroom

    I commenced banging on the door and kicking the door

    I could not open the door, nor could the steward.

    The steward attempted to open the door. He could not; the co-pilot exited the cabin and likewise attempted to open the door. He likewise could do nothing.

    Attempts to break open the door continued for almost half an hour, to no avail. Then, shortly before landing, they handed an axe to a former fire chief

    “The upper portion of the door was pried open and I was able to climb out,” says Freeman.

    The plane diverted to Salt Lake City, where Freeman was met by five paramedics — an experience he called “humiliating.”

    It seems he went to Lav, noticed he was locked, started to bang and complain, the FA and FO tried to open with no avail. The pilot decided to divert to SLC, they handed the axe to break the door, he went out, they landed.

    In other hands, it seems he spent a little more than 1/2 hour inside the lav. Not a pleasant experience, but neither the reason for two F tickets to UK.

    1. Or psychiatric help so he can deal with the post-traumatic stress syndrome.

      Yesterday I was in a middle seat on a Delta flight. The guy next to me kept his elbow in my space. I really had to “tuck” myself in to eat the $9.00 boxed lunch and I was fairly uncomfortable. Can someone give me the name of a “good” lawyer ?

  25. This poor traveler has suffered the absolutely worst, disgusting, degrading, episode and should be rewarded with such luxuries that will wash from his psyche the trauma he suffered.

    I’d recommend a pair of lifetime, fly-anywhere, anytime, pass anywhere United Airlines flies. The stress on his back, caused by the insufferable anxiety, should also require United to provide transportation to and from whatever airport he flies. If United really had their heart in the right place, they might add 2 years of psychiatric care to ease the traveler back to normalcy.

    Note: I hope there are no alcoholics, those of feeble mind, or young children reading this,
    because it’s a rule of good writing not to use sarcasm with drunks, dopes, or little kids…. they just wouldn’t understand.

  26. I feel a lot sorrier for the people in your USA Today column who had to sit in pee or vomit.

    The main thing, besides a little smell and no entertainment or beverage service, in being trapped in the lav would be no seatbelt or access to exits / flotation devices / oxygen, etc. in case of an emergency. This is probably why they had to divert the aircraft, due to the safety concerns. If there had been bad turbulence, he could have been badly injured. Of course, there wasn’t and he wasn’t. I think a $150 voucher is too low – let’s try again, United – maybe a $200 voucher and a RT to anywhere UA flies domestically.

  27. Silly and off topic question:

    I was trying to avoid questioning, but… LW stands for what? Last writer?

    Sorry, I didn’t find any useful description. Thanks!

    1. LW = Letter Writer

      Used interchangeably with OP = Original Poster (one who posts, not the noun meaning decorated paper affixed to a vertical surface)

  28. Yes, United fulfilled their “contract of carriage,” which these days seems to mean “we get you there when we get you there and be grateful you’re not with your luggage in the cargo hold.” Seriously though, sitting/standing in a teeny-tiny smelly space totally confined for 2-hours held up in a hell-hold deserves more than $150 flight voucher. Come on, United. Cough up a full refund – in CASH with a meaningful note of apology, one that shows some empathy. And, one more thing, United – be grateful Mr. Freeman isn’t claustrophobic like some of us.

  29. First of all, I don’t think Chris should help Freeman. He has a lawyer; he doesn’t need a consumer advocate.

    That said, I agree with Freeman’s being upset and think a $150 voucher is insufficient. However, I don’t think the problem is United’s post-flight attitude. The biggest problem isn’t even that the latch didn’t work properly. The biggest problem is that the plane had available a very practical method for getting him out of the bathroom (prying the door open with the plane’s ax), but the flight crew waited until “slightly before landing” to do use it — presumably to try to avoid damage to the plane. That conduct is outrageous, and probably rises to the level of false imprisonment.

    1. Really “false imprisonment?”

      How about this instead… The crew was trying to make sure that they did everything possible before the plane had to be taken out of service and the passengers kept from their destination. I can see the article now … The first thing the crew did was chop down the door with an axe and so I missed my eighth cousin’s high school graduation. If they had just tried to use a screwdriver, the maintenance team at SLC could have replaced the lock instead or us waiting a day for them to fly in a new plane…..

      Sitting in a lav is uncomfortable its not dangerous

        1. He locked himself in. The lock malfunctioned. The crew did everything including chop down the door to get him out. How is this false imprisonment? I would think that sitting in a plane on the taxiway for 4 hours or more and not being provided drinking water or the opportunity to go to the toilet is more fitting of false imprisonment.

          1. The way the post is written, it suggests that he got locked in, then the flight crew tried several things to get him out, which did not work (and probably had no chance to work) Then they left him in there for awhile before, at the very last minute, decide to break open the door with the ax, which they could have done from the beginning. This may not be what actually happened, but if it is, it’s a decent false imprisonment case.

            The tarmac thing isn’t false imprisonment for a variety of reasons, including: (1) passenger consent; and (2) authorization of law.

          2. For tarmac delays, they have actually passed a law that says specifically the airlines can’t leave you stuck on a plane for more than 3 hours without access to food and water and toilets.

            So if you get stuck in an elevator because it malfunctions and the building management don’t work continuously to get you out, they take a break to analyze their options and come up with a plan to get you out, would you consider that false imprisonment?

            Googled the legal definition of “false imprisonment” and got this:

            “An accidental or inadvertent confinement, such as when someone is mistakenly locked in a room, also does not constitute false imprisonment;the individual who caused the confinement must have intended the restraint.”

            To me, what happened here is not false imprisonment by definition. No one intended that the LW be confined in the airplane lavatory for an extended period of time. It just happened.

          3. That’s an overly narrow definition. In most states, at least, it also applies when somebody is trapped somewhere you control and you don’t act reasonably in getting them out. And yes, if you’re stuck in an elevator and the repair crew just decides to take a break while trying to get you out is probably false imprisonment.

          4. So you would only be happy if the persons working to get the door open (for either the airplane or the elevator) immediately went to the most destructive method available to open the door? Nothing less that might just work and not destroy the door would make you happy?

            I feel that trying other options to open the door before the axe approach is reasonable and probably a lot safer for everyone involved. No flying splinters that might just hit someone causing injury if the hinges could be removed from the door or the locking mechanism worked loose.

          5. No, that’s not what I said. Trying the other options first was reasonable.

            I’m operating from the assumption that the story as retold by Freeman and Chris is accurate — i.e., that they tried some things and those didn’t work, then they let him languish in there until the plane was about to land when they finally used the ax. It’s that period between the less aggressive steps and the ax that looks like false imprisonment.

            Again, that assumes the story (which isn’t terribly believable) is true. If it’s not true, this discussion is just an intellectual exercise.

          6. Here is the California Civil Jury Instruction of False Imprisonment. You will note that the mental state is intentionally deprived, not negligently, not even wantonly and recklessly, but actual intent is required.

            1. That [name of defendant] intentionally deprived [name of plaintiff] of [his/her] freedom of movement by use of [physical
            barriers/force/threats of force/menace/fraud/deceit/unreasonable
            duress]; [and]

            2. That the [restraint/confinement/detention] compelled [name of plaintiff] to stay or go somewhere for some appreciable time, however short;

            3. That [name of plaintiff] did not [knowingly or voluntarily] consent;

            4. That [name of plaintiff] was actually harmed; and

            5. That [name of defendant]’s conduct was a substantial factor in causing [name of plaintiff]’s harm.

          7. Right, so if they had a way to get him out but decided not to do it until the plane was about to land, “intentionally” would be satisfied.

            Again, I’m operating from the assumption that the story as retold by Freeman and Chris is accurate — i.e., that they tried some things and those didn’t work, then they let him languish in there until the plane was about to land when they finally used the ax. I tend to agree with those who find that story unbelievable (mainly because I generally don’t think flight crew are likely to commit a false imprisonment) — I’m just analyze the facts presented.

          8. Intentionally cannot not be satisfied under these facts.

            They did not intentionally lock him in the bathroom. No one suggests that they did.

            Their failure to timely retrieve him might be negligent, perhaps even reckless (although I doubt it), but even recklessness does not rise to the level of intentional. You simply cannot overcome the hurdle that no reasonable jury can find, and the LW does not even allege that he was intentionally locked in the bathroom.

            I doubt that a false imprisonment claim would even survive a demurrer

          9. If you allow somebody to remain stuck in an area for which you have responsibility and can get them out, that is false imprisonment. The intentionality comes from intentionally not freeing him when they knew they had a way to do it.

          10. Legally, there must be intent on the part of the facility owner. If they did not intend to lock you in, they are free and clear 100%.

          11. No, if they have the intent to not let you out when they are able to, that is also false imprisonment. Imagine I locked myself in the bathroom at your house somehow. You have the means to get me out, but you tell me, “too bad, you have to stay in there.” That is plainly false imprisonment. If the letter writer in this story told the story accurately (again, I seriously doubt his account, but I’m discussing what would happen if it were true), it’s exactly the same as the example I just gave.

  30. $150 voucher is an insult.

    A voucher is horst shirt – it costs the airline nothing, and it assumes you want to get taken for another ride on flye-bei-knight maintenance-free aviation.
    A couple of RT FC Tix to London costs the airline NOTHING. All those who are saying that this would be too much compensation are losing sight of the fact that this also would cost Untied Hairlines NADA. It’s indicative of their disdain for the customer that they insult him with an offer of a VOUCHER for $150. Of course, it appears the the customer himself, through his shyness and reticence, has stepped on it with a track shoe and turned it into a piccolo, thereby shedding any sympathy for his plight by the usually overwhelmingly empathetic denizens of this board.

    Untied Hairlines is not a nice gang, and I dislike them.

  31. Note: lawyer involved; Chris goes on to new issue.

    While possibly traumatic, there are some questions, about this scenario. If the lock is malfunctioning and no magicians are on board, then ax the slide bar! The door and lock are not Fort Knox! Once the lock is “chopped”, the slide will easily move. There is much to be said for the incompetence on the part of the flight crew. The passenger’s welfare takes precedence, over the replacement of a door. The net effect of a non-functioning door is that the plane is taken out of service. Either way, that plane was going to be DOA. Sorry airline, but the passenger comes first! What if that had been a child or parent with a small kid; can you imagine the hysteria!

    The responsible airline should just pony up a reasonable offer of compensation; perhaps a $1,000 voucher or gift card; either, with no expiration. I’m not in favor of lawyer exploitation; i.e. free first-class round-trip tickets. Apologies cost nothing and the airline blew it! Goodwill cannot be bought; sincerity goes a long way. The airline needs to make it right!

  32. Things happen every day in travel. Did Barry die? No! Did Barry get hurt? Not stated in this story! Was Barry embarassed? Yes! Poor Barry…..If you are rich, go ahead with the lawsuit, but file in WV, we always give money to poor people.

  33. How about at least half the fine the FAA might require for violating the following?


    Title 14: Aeronautics and Space


    Subpart D—Design and Construction

    §25.820 Lavatory doors.

    lavatory doors must be designed to preclude anyone from becoming trapped
    inside the lavatory. If a locking mechanism is installed, it must be
    capable of being unlocked from the outside without the aid of special

    [Doc. No. 2003-14193, 69 FR 24502, May 3, 2004]

    1. Sounds like that’s about proper design brand new and not wear or maintenance issues.

      Nobody designs a lock so that it doesn’t unlock properly. However, I’ve encountered plenty of locks where it got used, sticky, and/or balky to use because of wear. You should see the locking mechanism on Amtrak cars. The lavatories are often huge by airline standards, but they use these funky locks that don’t always lock or unlock smoothly when they’re used.

  34. Pretty difficult to sue UA, it’s a PR problem, the guy wasn’t injured. He should make the rounds of the TV talk shows … or threaten to. I think 2 tix up front to London is adequate to compensate for his horrible experience. Again, Chris is so right: “I think all of this could have been avoided if the airline had bothered to call or write and show just a little bit of concern for a passenger who by all accounts had a dreadful flight.” It defies imagination that UA did not apologize to him immediately.

    1. Alas, this is partially my profession’s fault. In some states, an apology is an admission of fault. So many businesses won’t apologize for that reason which leads to unnecessary litigation as this one might.

    2. If they showed no concern for him why did they divert and have him met by 5 paramedics? Yes management should’ve called but I agree of course they apologized profusely throughout the ordeal. I imagine he’s suing them either way and knew he would from the second he was stuck inside the lav but that’s just me.

  35. False imprisonment ??? We can be quite sure that no one at United (or in this case must have been United Express) deliberately wanted this to happen. Obviously they all tried to get the door open; I don’t see the need to over-react and take out the ax the minute this was happening; it’s just something that would take awhile. This guy needed to man-up and then laugh about it later – it would make a great travel story over Thanksgiving dinner.

    Two F-class tickets LAX-LHR ?? Worth about $10,000+ each. Ridiculous request but not surprising given the demands people make just by virtue of the fact that they bought an airline ticket. The sky is the limit ?? (no pun intended). What a wimp……yeah, run as fast as you can to your lawyer $$$$$$$.

  36. I think $150 is enough for the in-convenience (sorry I couldn’t resist). Frankly I can’t imagine that I would engage a lawyer to deal with the situation, in fact I probably wouldn’t even ask for compensation, but if I did, I think writing to the airline would be enough. I got locked in the construction area of our county executive offices recently for 30 minutes, and it didn’t even occur to me to ask for compensation.

    1. I got trapped in an elevator at work once. What pissed me off, was the uncaring attitude off the emergency operator. The I”m sorry the only tech is in Oakland and won’t be available for four hours. So I called the fireman who called the building manager who encouraged the elevator company to find someone immediately. That perhaps having an attorney tenant litigator trapped in a dark elevator at 8pm for 4+ hours might not be wise 😉

      The elevator company and building manager apologized profusely the next day which really helped calm me down.

      1. Reminds me of a case I sat as a juror on once. A woman was trapped in the work elevator. She has severe fear of elevators. The office called the maintenance department and it took about an hour to get her out.

        She won her case with half damages.

        The jurors felt that since the maintenance company hadn’t maintained the elevator properly (they clearly had not gotten around to it) and the elevator broke often, then they were liable. She was asking for damages to pay her shrink and lawyer: 10 grand.

          1. That seemed to be the case. The maintenance company only had one guy and he was working on too many elevators and didn’t go through the quarterly checklist. In some ways, looking back, I’m glad the jury found for the plaintiff. Companies shouldn’t be allowed to scrimp on promised maintenance and then get away with it simply because nobody was (seriously) hurt.

            She wanted money for the shrink and a few grand for counsel so I was ok with that.

      2. In my case it was pretty funny – nobody could actually figure out where I was. It was lucky I had my cellphone with me although it was running out of battery. Finally they saw me through a window in the other building. How did it happen? I exited from the parking lot through a stairwell that should have been locked, and walked through the door on the first floor, which shut behind me and couldn’t be opened from the side I was on. The only other exit was at the other end, but that was chained with a huge lock. I was actually meeting with the County Executive, so it was quite embarrassing too, probably for both of us. Also while I was there, someone called me about something completely different and I calmly answered and conducted the call as if nothing was amiss, to this day they have no idea what I was going through at the time, in retrospect it was all quite hilarious.

  37. What about the fact that the restroom was out of service to the rest of the passengers for the flight? I’m surprised there was not more than one complaint from this flight. But all in all, he is most certainly owed more than a $150 credit!! Which is the same amount they offered me when my luggage was lost (but eventually returned). United should have been more empathetic and reached out to follow up.

    1. Opens them up to legal problems. You never apologize, and once he calls out the lawyer, only their legal department will reply.

  38. I read this one twice but I’m still a bit confused about something. Why did they have paramedics transport him off? Unless someone was unconscious or so sick that they couldn’t necessarily consent we always had to ask if they wanted the aircraft met. Of course I didn’t work for united so I don’t know their policies but this leads me to believe (given his mention of anxiety and a bad back) that they had 5 paramedics meet the plane after a diversion because he was injured? Or had a severe anxiety attack which can actually mimic a heart attack if it’s severe enough? Or he mentioned the back issue and kicking the door causing more back issues and they decided to do so out of an abundance of caution? Did he speak of getting a lawyer right there on the flight to the crew? A diversion costs a lot of money and inconveniences hundreds so if he wasn’t hurt then why would they have paramedics meet him after diverting the aircraft?
    What did he think would happen at that point they would divert and no paramedics would be there in which case that would be something else to complain and ask for compensation for?
    I imagine a very dramatic scene (clearly the crash axe wow) but beyond that I imagine a serious panic attack and a holding of the back while rattling off the exact problem he already had with his back that 100% was going to now be worse from kicking the door…….. Otherwise, what did he expect no paramedics that part has me scratching my head. So your mad they got paramedics to you but had they not then what? The very specific pairing of round trip first class tickets makes me think he intended to contact a lawyer from the second the door wouldn’t open regardless of how united handled this. Maybe not. He does deserve more than what they offered and they should’ve had management meet the flight as well (although there may not have been one on the premises if there isn’t one there on a regular basis) in which case they could’ve at least called him to check in so yeah he deserves something but I wouldn’t get involved this guy is suing regardless. Period. I see it very clearly not sure about others but of course they’re getting sued. Why else retain a lawyer surely not to contact a free consumer advocate he could’ve done so himself….
    Poor guy there’s no worse place to get stuck than a lav ick but I don’t understand someone that got mad they are receiving medical care when they were involved in something like this that sparked anxiety and back pain yet probably would’ve been mad about the fact they weren’t there if they hadn’t gotten paramedics to meet the flight.
    You just got chopped out of the lav with a crash axe but your embarrassed about paramedics meeting you upon landing after a diversion? This confuses me very much.

  39. He “doth protest too much.” Methinks he is one of the “entitled” — meet them every day. A half hour — is that how long he was in there? — no one ever died from being locked in a toilet for 1/2 hour. Just chalk it up to experience. There was no physical injury. GET OVER IT!!!!

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