American Airlines Employee Stalks Passenger, Sends Creepy Texts

Filed Under: American

NBC San Diego has the story of how a local San Diego woman has filed a lawsuit against American Airlines, after she was harassed by an employee in a frightening way.

Passenger receives harassing text messages

In April 2019, Ashley Barno was flying American Airlines from San Diego to Chicago. While in the gate area, she started receiving text messages:

“Hey, Ashley! How are you?”

“BTW I must tell you that you are gorgeous.”

Barno asked how he knew her, and how he got her info. He didn’t answer those questions. The harassment continued:

“You are looking very gorgeous in that gray top today.”

The person texting her identified himself as “Ahmad,” and said he worked for American Airlines. The texts continued even after she boarded her flight:

“I am on board now. Are you going to Chicago too??”

“Will you join me?”

“I really like you!! Come on join me!!”

She told him to leave her alone, but he continued:

“Ok it’s up to you, but friendship with me will be very beneficial for you. I can always give you good seats, access to the lounges, and free flights.”

Passenger gets flight attendant involved

I can only imagine how creeped out Barno must have been, being in an enclosed space with an unknown creep. So she got the flight attendant involved. Apparently the flight attendant confirmed that Ahmad was an American Airlines employee.

The flight attendant took the situation seriously and alerted staff in Chicago, and the creep was removed from the plane upon landing.

Barno shares the following about how she felt:

“I got off the plane, too. I called my sister, and I was crying profusely because I just felt… I mean, the best way to describe it was, I felt naked in a public place.”

How Ahmad got her information

This is the part that kind of surprises me. When I first started reading this story, I assumed that an on-duty employee might have been harassing her, or that an off duty employee was somehow using company systems to look up her personal details.

However, that doesn’t appear to be the case. Apparently Ahmad had gotten her name, cell phone number, and address from the luggage tag on her carry-on bag. Barno assumes that he may have been sitting near her, and taken a picture (or something) of her bag tag.

Barno has since found out that Ahmad had harassed at least one other passenger. While American Airlines called her about the incident, they ignored her requests for more information. She wanted assurance that Ahmad had been disciplined, but the airline didn’t do much.

Because she didn’t get anywhere, she has hired an attorney and is suing American Airlines:

“I tried for several months to work this out amicably, but I think they didn’t take it seriously, and no one responded to me.”

By hiring an attorney, she hopes to get more information about what happened. The attorney explained:

“We’re doing this to send a message to big corporations that this behavior is not acceptable. They have to train their employees better and take better precautions to make sure these things don’t happen again.”

In response to this, American Airlines issued the following statement:

“American Airlines takes the privacy and safety of our customers very seriously. While we can’t discuss details about this individual case, we investigated the allegations and took appropriate action.”

My takeaways from this

There are a few things that come to mind when I read this story.

First and foremost, this is beyond creepy. The lack of respect that some people have for others is disgusting, and I can only imagine how violated she must have felt.

Next, I don’t see anything suggesting that Ahmad used any private company information to access her details, since he apparently just looked at her luggage tag. So this could have just as easily been another passenger creeping on her:

  • On the one hand that’s even creepier, since it means anyone could have done this, and since it means he was in such close proximity to her
  • On the other hand, it means he wasn’t abusing access to company systems to get her info

This doesn’t impact the outcome — that someone made very unwelcome advances — but it is interesting to me nonetheless.

The worst part is that this apparently wasn’t even Ahmad’s first time harassing another passenger.

I’m pleased that the flight attendant was so helpful, though I’d be curious to know how all of that went down:

  • Did someone on the manifest have the name Ahmad, and was that how he was identified?
  • Did the flight attendant confront Ahmad and ask him to stop harassing the passenger, or was this a surprise to Ahmad upon landing?
  • In a way, I’m surprised this didn’t cause a diversion, given just how creepy this was

What we should learn from this case

This is a good reminder to be careful with the personal information you make publicly available. Never write your entire name, phone number, and address on a luggage tag:

  • Ideally don’t have a luggage tag at all, but rather place something in your bag that has your contact details
  • If the airline insists you have a luggage tag, put minimal info on it, and definitely don’t include your address
  • If you’re going to have a luggage tag, ideally have one that doesn’t just openly display the info, but where you have to open or pull something out in order to access the details

Bottom line

“Ahmad” sounds like a total creep. On the surface I don’t think American as such is at fault for what he did, because he wasn’t using company information for this (as far as we know), and because as far as I know the company has training against this kind of stuff (not to mention it should be common sense… but that doesn’t stop people).

Any company with 100,000+ employees is going to have some creeps and “bad hombres” as employees, who simply don’t understand boundaries.

What American is responsible for is the poor way they seemingly responded to the situation. Furthermore, if there were reports of the employee having done this before and he wasn’t properly disciplined, then that would be on them too.

What do you make of this situation?

(Tip of the hat to Peter)

Comments
  1. Tumi has a luggage tag that has a cover. It is perfect since nobody can see your info unless they open the tag. As for the creep it was easy for her to just block his phone from her device and he would not be able to send her a message again. Now, suing AA just because he works there? Really? How about if the creep worked for XYZ company and saw her luggage tag on board? Would she sue XYZ company???

  2. “So this could have just as easily been another passenger creeping on her”

    Above is the most important statement in the piece…This could have been anyone, it just so happened to be an airline employee…

  3. @SEM except that he tries to use his power as an AA employee as leverage in his creepy seduction (“I can give you good seats, access to the lounges, and free flights”).

    AA’s handling of this, or lack thereof, is the biggest issue for them.

  4. Didn’t that AA flight attendant say last month in her response to your post that they don’t like to prove their names in case customers get creepy and stalk them?

    Turns out it works both ways.

  5. Honestly, this person should be terminated from AA. Two instances of this kind of behavior is not acceptable. Unfortunately, unless an attorney gets involved, rarely is the person terminated let alone disciplined.

    If you changed the situation and said “___ teacher stalked/harrassed ___ student” it would be on the news and that teacher would be removed immediately. While I understand readers would react differently to my example, it’s more similar if you think about it. Ahmad is making improper advances and trying to exert influence and power “free flights and other perks”.

  6. “Unfortunately, unless an attorney gets involved, rarely is the person terminated let alone disciplined.”

    It’s both fortunate and unfortunate. There are way too many cases where people are unjustifiably terminated or disciplined because of uninvestigated complaints. Everyone needs representation to some degree. Really the unfortunate aspect is that American did not investigate further (especially given this seems to be the second complaint) and take appropriate action based on that.

  7. Not sure I agree with the recommendation re tags. Only way I have tracked someone down who mistakenly took my bag was to call the person based on the info of their tag. Happened three times, so it’s a trade off between different risks.

  8. At 2:42 in the linked video, the anchor makes the most important statement of this whole piece, that everyone seems to be missing:

    “Ahmad WAS NOT WORKING FOR THE AIRLINE AT THE TIME”

    I listened to it three times to make sure I heard it correctly. This changes the entire piece, including the headline. If that sentence is true, then he was just a passenger being creepy with info he saw in the airport. Maybe an ex-employee or something? I’m confused now….

  9. It’s irresponsible and completely over the top to tell others not to use ID luggage tags.

    You truly do not live in the real world when it comes to travel!. Especially since 99% of your travel is carry-on.

  10. If you think being stalked by a random airline employee or passenger is a problem and requires taking pre-emptive defensive measures for privacy protection, consider that the internet forums (which you use on your internet browsers or via apps) are even more readily able to be used by stalkers to get even more of a picture of their targets than what comes via a baggage tag in the open.

  11. This is how I see it.

    AA has nothing to do with this. Stalkings on personal time and not using company resources might not be enough to terminate employment. So AA can’t really fire Ahmed.

    Ahmed is probably roaming the gates for a target. It’s not too hard to guess where she is flying to, or even wait until she boards. Ahmed list him on standby for the same flight.
    Flight attendant can see who is Ahmed nonrev on the flight manifest.

    Can’t really call out AA on this.

  12. So the employee thing is a bit murky IMO. If the guy was working on the flight, or at the airport, and doing this, it seems much, much worse for AA.

    It’s still bad, but he is basically doing this as a private citizen, using info other flyers can see, while using his airline perks to say creepy things.

    He could have done the exact same thing as a non-AA employee, while offering free hamburgers (or whatever).

    The part about him having done this in the past does make it worse for AA. And she had no way of knowing during the flight he wasn’t working at that moment, and he identified as AA staff and she was under the “control” of AA staff (safety first! Cant’ question the crew! Can’t question the captain! etc.)

    If I were her at this point, i would have wished he was on duty as I think she would get a much bigger payday. But maybe not, any lawyers want to chime in with the importance of him being off duty?

  13. If he was using his non-rev travel benefits. There are company guidelines for behavior when traveling non-rev. He clearly broke those guidelines (just announcing to a customer he is an employee, let alone the harrassment). Id say union or no, the company had legal course to terminate him. They clearly didn’t. I can see her making out in this suit, as she should.

  14. She should have saved his info and got a pic of him, blocked his number, shared with an airline employee, and
    stayed alert.
    If there were further issues contact local law enforcement.

  15. @ Eskimo – if your scenario turns out to be correct, unless he walked up to the gate and purchased a ticket at the walk-up rate available to the public, he did use his status as an employee to facilitate the stalking. And even if he bought a walk-up fare, the publicity from the case harms the airline’s reputation. So he definitely can be disciplined. Whether or not termination of employment is legal depends on applicable statute and/or union contract (if he’s union), so that’s unclear – but at the absolute minimum he can be told that any further offenses will lead to termination.

    As for bag tags, why would you have your contact information on a tag on a carry-on bag? If you’re afraid that you and the bag could be separated (for example, if you have to put it in the hold on a small plane), just put the information inside the bag. I don’t even put anything other than my name on a outside tag on checked bags, and don’t put a tag at all on carry-on.

  16. I had an incident last year with United Airlines and my delayed luggage. I had a disagreement over the phone with the person they contracted with to deliver the luggage, and finally told him to leave my bag at the airport so that I could collect it myself the next day. 30 minutes later (at 3 am), he sent me a text message and told me “You were 30 minutes away from having your luggage.” When I went to the airport to pick up my bag, I showed the text message to the supervisor, asked them why my personal information was being used for purposes other than delivering my luggage, and was then issued a $500 travel voucher!

  17. Something similar happened to a friend of mine while flying in Delta out of STI, but the difference is this was an actual on duty employee, he took his information from the system. He started sending messages to my friend once he landed at JFK, after a few messages my friend politely let the guy know he wasn’t gay and to please not to message him again. The guy wrote I think once more, my friend ignored him and that was it.

    But still very creepy and disrespectful, I feel bad for this girl.

  18. @Lucky,

    Please please don’t become like The Points Guy posting stuff that’s largely irrelevant to the purpose of your site and business (Points, Miles). Brian Kelly is a sell-out they are running out of things to talk about.

    This is tabloid nonsense and has nothing to do with American Airlines or it’s frequent flyer program. I get great value out of the majority of your posts and have found them to be unbiased and informative. Please keep it that way.

  19. If he was on duty or if the company had some training or data safeguards issues, I could see where they might be a culpable. This individual obtained data in plain-view and acted in his own capacity, therefore he alone should be responsible.

    As a public relations matter it would have been a good look for the company to circle back to the lady about what they did/didn’t act on, but I don’t think they hard owe her anything.

    She will have an uphill battle in court, for sure. And I think it’s interesting she didn’t go after him. That will look bad in court as well.

  20. This was a woman in the West. Now imaging the life of millions of women in the countries where they are expected to “dress modestly” (wear hijab, or even cover their faces), and where men are not held accountable for such harassment. Read some stories about women in Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Somalia and other places where this barbaric culture is the norm.

  21. How is Americans handling of this poor? Employee discipline action is NOT public information. This woman was creeped out that the guy used her publically broadcast private I go (the luggage tag) and now she is upset American won’t give out private employment details?

  22. @SEM “… just so happened to be an airline employee” for the airline Lucky, and now patronizing Peter, seem to be gunning for.

    While I won’t guess at their motives, I will just echo John G’s call to get back to the business of travel, miles and upgrades.

    And if there IS a credit card I can apply for that would subject me to this kind of attention, I’m interested. 😉

  23. More will come out I assume, but this does sound like a non-revenue flight given the FA knew he was there. I’m familiar with former US Air non-revenue rules and assume the same is true for American. The stalker may not have been actively working that flight, but it doesn’t matter. An American Airlines employee on a non-revenue is still an employee and has rules to follow.
    The pax reported it and what American did afterwards is key. If they didn’t follow their own employee conduct regulations, I expect the pax will be able to sue the life out of them.

  24. @Stan
    “This woman was creeped out“.
    No, “this woman” as you put it, was subject to unlawful harassment.
    As for what happened to the perpetrator, well, that’s why the lawyers are now involved presumably with the People Department and/or Business Ethics & Compliance Office. This was employee harassment of a customer.
    “Employees who violate the law or the Standards may also expose themselves to substantial civil damages, criminal fines, and prison terms. We may also face substantial fines and penalties and may incur damage to our reputation and standing in the community. If your conduct as a representative of our company does not comply with the law or with the Standards, there can be serious consequences for both you and American”.
    This wasn’t written with the understanding that employee discipline when it comes to outside parties remains private.
    @cls
    They’re a representative of American Airlines when on a non-rev assuming US Air regs continued to AA or already existed prior to the merger.

  25. Sounds like BS.

    It’s impossible to know who contacted this woman unless she released her phone to the authorities and they were able to trace the number

    Was there a name “Ahmad” on the manifest ?

    Was that his real name ?? Or even a female ?

    If he/she bought a pay as you go it couldn’t be traced

    Finally Why did she not simply block the contact ??

  26. In reference to all the ignoramuses who have a problem with her law suite, she is suing because AA refused to take her side (the victim) and protected all information of the offender. They made their bed now they can lie in it as they get their asses sued.

  27. @cls
    Just found an old non-rev space available ticket:
    “The issuance of this ticket is subject to the regulations of US Airways. Failure to comply with such provisions may lead to suspension of travel privileges, dismissal from the company..”
    “Regulations of US Airways“ is a pretty broad term and it’s unlikely AAs terms would be more lenient, so my best guess is this person was canned.

  28. OMG Nick why not just turn this incident into a International crisis! This was an isolated incident involving a creepy off duty airline employee who went to far. And no people should continue to use luggage tags. Just don’t put your home address on them. Email and phone # are enough. You can always block an email or phone call. Simple. This woman was never in any danger. Let’s not make it something bigger than it is.

  29. The original story (NBC San Diego) says he was met by AA managers upon arrival and AA said: “appropriate action was taken”. They cannot disseminate the outcome of their dealings with an employee- that would get them sued.

    I checked the federal index and couldn’t find a federal case against AA under her name. I’m too lazy to check the state systems. I can tell you the likely outcome though “Failure to State a Claim For Which Relief Can Be Granted”. No crime under California Penal Code has been committed, her phone number was in public display (like many of us who have their business cards taped to our work laptops or attached to our bags) and none of the messages were threatening or sexually inappropriate.

    She and her attorney already got what they wanted- their five minutes of fame and a bunch of people talking about it (including me).

  30. Lucky:

    Your statement:

    “On the surface I don’t think American as such is at fault for what he did, because he wasn’t using company information for this (as far as we know)”

    I do not think you have any experience working except self employment.

    American has an employee in their aircraft acting improper, whether he is “on the clock”, non rev, or he paid full fare. They are responsible for all behavior of all people on that plane, and the definition of harassment is making one’s workplace or visit uncomfortable .

    I am responsible for my employees at work even if a visitor or delivery person says something sexual or persists communicating with them when the employee says to stop or move on.

    I had one brown uniform delivery person banned from our office because of off color behavior, which I am sure on a downtown construction site, would be considered normal.

    Work for any big company and you will find yourself in a sensitivity training seminar or sexual harassment seminar.

  31. So now everyone on the internet knows her name. I find it far more creepy that news media even compromised her name.

  32. As a retired AA/US employee, I can verify that inflight crews have complete passenger lists, with notations re any non-revenue employees/family onboard.
    There are rules of conduct for the privilege of employee travel. Temporary suspension of travel and also termination of employment can be consequences of non-compliance. This would apply to anyone, whether on-duty or on personal time.
    AA comes off bad in this situation because they did not advise the passenger of what disciplinary action was taken, but the sleazebag Ahmad is the guilty one.
    Once I was checking in some young girls at LAX and a mid-20s foreign guy crouched down to read one girl’s bag ID tag, while she was distracted. I advised her immediately. She gave him an annoyed look; he was embarrassed but said nothing and decided to get lost among his travel companions.
    Moral of the story: use ID tags that have a cover or place them inside a pocket of the bag.

  33. @John G
    Doesn’t really matter if this was criminal or not. If the employee’s behavior went against company policy, AA should act, and I’m assuming/hoping for their case that they did.
    As for the 5 minutes of fame, she tried for several months to get any response from AA, heard nothing, so hired an attorney to “send a message to big corporations that this behavior is not acceptable. They have to train their employees better and take better precautions to make sure these things don’t happen again.” Seems fair, and hopefully stops it happening again.
    The only part of this that confuses me is the perp claiming he could get her “good seats”. This is American we’re talking about. Unless he’s was planning on taking her to a Pier One store after the flight.

  34. I put one of my business cards in my luggage tag holder. Has plenty of info to get ahold of me (work email, phone, address) but no personal info other than name.

  35. @KC,

    Who said American didn’t take action ? They just won’t tell her what action was taken. If he was met by AA supervisors upon arrival-
    I’m willing to bet he was terminated.

    She’s suing and found some lawyer to file the case because she feels they as a company didn’t do enough to protect her.

    I just can’t see what liability they would have as a company. That’s the point I was trying to make.

    Now let’s get back to miles and points.

  36. @CraigTPA
    @KC

    The non rev is a flight privilege that can (and in this case should) be taken away for misuses. That alone is not enough grounds for termination. And unless Ahmed already gave upgrades or lounge passes or did it while on duty, Ahmed probably didn’t break any rules enough for termination. This puts AA in a tough position but if AA fires Ahmed they would also risk wrongful termination.

    While stalking is illegal (and I’m no lawyer), from the texts shown is just not enough in court to prove anything more than being creepy. No real threats, just an awkward compliment and trying to ask a person to be a friend.

    Just because someone works for a company doesn’t mean the company is liable for everything, especially when this occurred off duty. Go sue Ahmed not AA.

  37. @BobMay:

    Couldn’t agree with you more! Imagine Lucky trying to defend Ford or a different employee of a flight attendant or gate agent came forward and said they had been accosted, or even just suffered abusive behaviour?

    And I must confess that I’m still giggling to myself, trying to figure out if the “brown uniform delivery” person was a POC in ANY possible delivery uniform, or ANY possible color of person in a UPS uniform.

    Talk about an HR hair to be split!

  38. Check out eTags from ebags.com. I have one on each piece of our luggage including carry on bags.

  39. AA is liable because the creep is an AA employee that is using flying benefits afforded to him by AA. Whenever an employee is using such benefits, they in turn becomes a representative of the company.

  40. @gordonwaite and you know because ? No one knows the true story. Only this woman’s side which may not be true. As I mentioned she could have blocked him/her and moved on.
    No evidence it was an airline employee. Just another person looking for cash as if that’s the only thing that will help her.

  41. “It should be common sense”
    There’s a reason that the expression “common sense is not that common” is a popular expression

  42. For 50 years there’s been items including T-shirts cards etc. from flight attendants let’s say “marry me and fly free”.
    Should all of those employees be dismissed or reprimanded? This is so silly.

  43. “Never in any danger”? “not enough grounds for termination.”? How do you know “none of the messages were threatening or sexually inappropriate.” Ever go minding your own business to be sexually harassed by strange men? It rattles women and girls. I say girls because we had to zig zag around the blocks to walk to our grade school. Disgusting. No filthy creep will ever get a date by harassing women, yet they are still stupid enough to still do it. Worse in other countries, where women are easy meat if they are not traveling with a guard. I say you all need to stop saying this is OK male behavior, it is NOT! No harm done if she was not jumped? You all should be demanding the creep be tarred and feathered, not saying it is not grounds for termination!

  44. I think the suggestion of inserting your business card in the tag in place of your address was a good one. Plenty of info to get in touch with you and not enough to get real personal.

    Oh yeah…and please don’t use “bad hombres” ever again!

  45. AA is getting scary. Last year a mechanic with ties to Islam deliberately sabotaged an aircraft. Luckily the pilot turned back before a disaster. How can I best use up my advantage rewards without boarding a plane? Hotels and car rentals require far too many points.

  46. I might be the only one here that feels this way but this guy just asked a girl out in a creepy way. I can see him getting disciplined by AA but I don’t see this to the level of firing. It was a one time thing and was not a prolonged encounter, she could of blocked the number and had a number of avenues out of the situation.

    In a alternate universe he could of been a good looking guy that had a conversation with her and felt he hit it off and seeing her number on the luggage and did a similar thing and had a positive result. Trying to ask a girl out is often a positive thing and something woman desire. But along with that expectation we have Ahmad’s that are incredibly poor at it.

    I don’t see this much differently than the guy that buys a expensive ring for a girl and when the girl decides not to marry him he sues for breech of contract to get the money for the ring back. Technically I can see the point but at the end of the day it is just silly. I don’t see much wrong here, it is not prolonged harassment, he had no power over her life like a supervisor in a job would. He is just a guy that makes bad decisions and is bad at asking woman out.

  47. I had something nearly as creepy happen to me. A flight attendant gave me his “card” before landing which was very obviously homemade. It had a very pixelated United logo on it, and things got stranger… I got a friend request from him on Facebook. I can only assume that he got my name from the manifest but it made me feel really creeped out

  48. Would she have reported this person had he not been named “Ahmad”? Had it been “John” or “Dan” it would probably have been a repeat of “up in the air” she would be telling her girls about at her next cocktail party…

  49. I had a creepy experience with a male flight attendant who wrote a very complementary note and passed it to me with my drink. I usually fly with American once per month and sometimes have a layover in O’Hare.

    This note was describing how beautiful I am *eye roll* and how I’m talented and a bunch of things that are very strange for a flight attendant, or anyone who has only had a few words with you to write. I believe I may have some pictures of the note and I wonder if the name he signed with was Ahmad… It could just be another dude, but I’m going to look into it!

    I was a bit creeped out and worried because the note was asking to get to know me and read as if he already knew me. I have never forgotten, but I let it go because I wondered if maybe I was blowing this out of proportion… Damn, maybe I should have said something to the other attendants. I don’t know if it was the same guy, I mean that would be pretty crazy, but it is possible he switched up his MO after being unsuccessful with the notes…

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