A Nigerian man is claiming an Emirates Airlines flight crew punched and bound him and taped his mouth shut for hours on his flight from Dubai to Chicago.
David Ukesone was eight hours outside of Chicago when the dispute with flight attendants broke out, his attorney said according to ABC News.
Ukesone, a retired police officer in his 70s, said he had an argument with the flight attendant about which seat he was supposed to be in and that prompted the violence.
“He apparently sits in the wrong seat and was told to change seats by a flight attendant,” attorney Howard Schaffner told ABC News. “He didn’t think he was in the wrong seat and there was an argument and, at some point, he was hit.”
In a statement released by Emirates Airlines on Monday morning, the airline confirms that an incident occurred, but said the man became unruly and flight attendants were forced to restrain him.
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“Emirates can confirm that a passenger on flight EK235 from Dubai to Chicago on 23 January had to be restrained by cabin crew due to unruly behavior during the flight. The passenger was handed over to the authorities on arrival in Chicago. The safety of our passengers and crew is of the utmost importance and will not be compromised. We would like to take this opportunity to thank the other passengers on the flight for their understanding, in particular the individuals who had assisted our crew during the flight.”
Ukesone had been on a flight from Nigeria to Dubai “with no incident,” ABC News reports.
Ukesone was flying from Dubai to Chicago to meet his wife and adult son and daughter who had immigrated to the United States, Shaffner said.
“They told him he was in the wrong seat and they laid hands on him to move him and that’s when everything escalated.”
When Ukesone boarded his second flight, he was assigned to seat 35D. During the flight, Ukesone allegedly got up to use the restroom and when he returned, he accidentally sat in a seat that wasn’t 35D, but was “very close,” his lawyer says.
A flight attendant reportedly approached Ukesone and asked him to move, which confused Ukesone because he claims he thought he was in the proper seat. Ukesone says he speaks and understands English, but sometimes has “difficulty understanding” accents other than Nigerian.
“He was asked to move and he wants to take his bag in the overhead compartment with him,” the attorney said.
“They told him he was in the wrong seat and they laid hands on him to move him and that’s when everything escalated,” Schaffner added.
The disagreement escalated, the attorney claims, when a flight crew member hit him “at least once,” leaving a “large welt on his face,” ABC 7 reports.
Ukesone was also allegedly restrained with a hemp rope that was tied from his ankles to his head and left “significant wounds on his wrists and ankles.”
Schaffner said his client claims his “mouth was taped” and he was left that way for the rest of the eight-hour flight “without any food or water.”
A spokesman for Emirates Airlines refuted the claim, telling NY Daily News, “Our cabin crew are highly trained to ensure the safety and security of our passengers, and constantly monitored Mr. Ukesone’s welfare throughout the flight.”
Upon arrival at Chicago O’Hare International Airport, Ukesone was removed from the plane by the U.S. Customer and Border Patrol and turned over to local authorities. He was then allegedly transported to the hospital on a stretcher where he was treated for lacerations and bruising. His family, who was waiting for him at the airport, was not told until several hours later.
Ukesone remained in the hospital for several days, according to reports.
“People have to be trained to deal with things … without escalating them into something crazy.”
The airline told FOX 32 a flight attendant was also taken to the hospital for injuries.
Schaffner insists his client was not on any medication, had not had any alcohol and has no history of mental illness.
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Schaffner said his client has not been charged with any crime and is planning to take legal action.
“There’s no question we’re going to file a lawsuit,” Schaffner said, adding that he hopes other passengers who were flying with Ukesone that day come forward.
“Everybody needs to step back for a second and take a deep breath,” Schaffner said. “He hasn’t flown in a long time and he’s clearly from another country … he just made an honest mistake of sitting in the wrong seat and people have to be trained to deal with things like that, without escalating them into something crazy.”