Facebook CEO’s Sister Lashes Out at Alaska Airlines Over Sexual Harassment

Randi Zuckerburg wrote to Alaska Airlines yesterday about sexual harassment on board.

Airlines are very small-d democratic, they bring together a wide range of people from different backgrounds, with different beliefs, who carry all of their emotional baggage on board. And we’re stuck together inside a metal tube for several hours.

Flight attendants, and ultimately the flight’s captain, are charged not only with getting us to our destinations safely – and comfortably – but refereeing behavior outside cultural norms for the carrier.

It sounds like Randi Zuckerberg ran into an absolute jerk who behaved terribly towards her.

He started talking to me about touching himself, kept asking me if I fantasized about the female business colleague I was traveling with, rated and commented on the women’s bodies boarding the aircraft as they walked by us, and many more equally horrifying and offensive comments

And Alaska Airlines responded:

Good for Alaska Airlines — if the allegations are true, Alaska Airlines should ban him as a customer.

Ms. Zuckerberg, though, complained about how cabin crew handled the situation as it was unfolding.

She claims a flight attendant told her the man is one of the airline’s frequent flyers who takes the route often, that they’ve had to speak to him about his behavior in the past, but that she shouldn’t take it personally. And she says they served him alcoholic beverages onboard.

Alaska Airlines First Class

The crew offered to re-seat her, but she refused, saying “Why should I have to move? I am the one that is being harassed!” Indeed she would have had to move from first class to economy since first is almost always full.

She shouldn’t have to move, but could it be the most expedient way to deal with things in the situation? It’s a second-best and she’d certainly expect a refund for being unable to use the first class seat purchased.

If the flight attendants don’t have a reasonable expectation that they can get him to change his behavior in the moment, the alternatives would be:

  1. Behavior continues
  2. One of them moves
  3. The flight diverts

Asking the man to move might lead to the diversion as well by the way. So it’s about dealing with things as effectively as possible, and following up after the fact. Alaska appears to have handled things well when the company was made aware of the situation.

The flight attendants were in a difficult situation figuring out how to best minimize conflict, made a judgment call, and in this case I’d hesitate to second guess that especially since the way they handled it let the plane make it safely to its destination and not divert. The guy is the jerk here not Alaska Airlines.

By the way while it’s possible he shouldn’t have been served alcohol it’s not obvious that alcohol had anything to do with the situation, it’s also not clear he was over-served, and refusing him altogether could have made his behavior worse. I’d tend to defer to the flight attendants on the scene here too, and again their judgment appears to have been correct because his behavior doesn’t seem to have gotten worse, the situation didn’t escalate, and no one got hurt.

It seems like inviting this gentleman not to fly the airline while they verify the story is taking their passenger’s concerns very seriously.

How do you think the flight crew should have handled the situation? Was it wrong to try to minimize conflict during the flight, and for the airline to deal with the man after the fact?

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Appalling behavior on all fronts.

    Wondering if Alaskan would take the same actions if it wasn’t Zucks sister on the receiving end.

  2. I could not disagree more that “The guy is the jerk here not Alaska Airlines.” – that might have been the case the first time he acted up, but it’s certainly not the case now. The fact that the flight attendants remember him, have talked to him about it before, but still won’t do anything places the blame solely on Alaska Airlines’ corporate culture and guidelines around how to handle unruly passengers.

    The fact that they continued to serve him alcohol after repeated complaints about his behavior on that flight is further damning. Sure, he might be an ass even without the liquor, but when was the last time that helped a tenuous situation?

    You say that Alaska handled it well – that may be the case for their corporate staff who are working on this situation after the fact, but the FAs that refused to do anything about his behavior the last time he did this work for Alaska also, and they definitely did not handle it well. The fact of the matter is that there should be very little tolerance for behavior like this, and it seems like AS has let this particular passenger get away with it for a while.

  3. They are working on it diligently now because it’s a very established social media person and so they have no choice. Hopefully, some good comes of it but it doesn’t help the women who were subjected to this guy’s antics until a person with the media profile of Ms. Zuckerberg decided to make it an issue. They care to the extent of their bottom line. When it’s more expedient to allow it, they do. When it’s a big enough issue that is being tweeted by a woman who they know will get attention, the expedient thing to do is respond. Congratulating them on a response in a context where they had virtually no choice overshadows their crap behavior for knowingly letting a creep on one of their planes. They are lucky the guy didn’t try to touch her. What would their excuse be there? We knew he was a creep but not an assaulter?

  4. It’s wrong that this guy was a known jerk/harasser and the airline continued to let him fly all this time because he happened to spend a lot of money with the airline.

    And considering how flight attendants have been known to remove passengers for far less egregious behavior, the flight attendants on this flight could have easily removed this guy before the flight was done boarding. The guy had already crossed the line before boarding was completed.

  5. The cabin crew is in trouble, they botched. However, in terms of managing passenger safety in the moment, arguably the safeest, most expedient and best outcome was to move Zuckerberg. SHE is not the arbiter of that decision, the airline’s representatives are. There is more than a whiff of her entitled ass jumping on the news of the day bandwagon.

    As far as I can tell, everything that is happening now in the aforementioned news and in the culture is justified and overdue. HOWEVER – females, you do not get a magic wand to control your environment. It is not guilty until proven innocent. That’s where this is all going, and this story is the snowflake at the tip of the iceberg.

    Bad drunks be bad drunks. They’ll say anything to anybody. We’ve all been there. Let’s not make this more than it is.

  6. With the important caveat that we’re taking the passenger at her word (though she presents it in a cogent, persuasive manner that gives no cause to doubt it) about what both the fellow passenger and especially the flight attendants said…

    I agree with @Nick. On that specific flight, the flight attendants should have stopped serving him alcohol as soon as they were informed of or witnessed his conduct, even if he was a jerk before starting to drink on the plane. (He might have been drunk upon boarding, for that matter.) And they should have warned him about consequences (e.g., removal of flying privileges, being met by police upon arrival, etc.) for any further repulsive remarks/conduct on his part.

    In some ways, this should have been an easy call on the FAs’ part: it was not a one-time “he said/she said” incident where the FAs might not have been sure whether to believe the complaining passenger, since the FAs knew he tended to act this way. They apparently didn’t need to get his side of the story, since they were aware of this pattern and possibly even saw/heard him in action on this particular flight.

    Again, we’re only getting one side (though very persuasive) of this story. But if in fact FAs witness such repeated conduct by a given passenger, I would hope that an airline would have a system in place for them to report it to management and for management to caution the passenger about not repeating such conduct, with removal of flying privileges as one incentive for better conduct.

  7. and to think that all it took was a high profile customer to bring this to light. how many other women have been put in the same situation with no action being taken? more women need to stand up to these a-holes.
    i agree that alaska should have done something long, long ago. they are complicit in every way.

  8. Actually I don’t know where they could have moved him, except off the plane, without having him sit next to someone else, who might be victimized too. Still it looks like his circumstance as a frequent flyer on the route was more important to them than the rights of Ms. Zuckerberg, until, perhaps, they learned who she was. Absolutely unacceptable.

  9. I don’t know if the stance “if we did ask something of the accused passenger things could have gotten worse” is an appropriate strategy.

    So if I want customer service to go my way I have to be the worst (high paying) passenger?

  10. Gary, please check your biases — starting with the subject which (while true) frames Randi in the context of her brother. Nepotism and privilege aside, at this point Randi has a job title, career, and role of her own (hence social media following), so it’s a bit of a micro-aggression to describe her as Zuck’s sister.

    As to your main point about the airline having done the right thing at this time, this is a loaded issue because our frame of reference for what it is “fine” and “taking things seriously” is colored by our own experiences and expectations, which is driven by our own biases. It’s not about comparing Alaska’s response to other corporate responses, but considering how we should expect bystanders and authority figures (in this case, the crew) to react to verbal assault in an enclosed space. Would we expect a different response to audible racial, ethnic, or religious slurs?

    There’s also an inherent conflict (not legally, but socially) between giving victims the benefit of the doubt and presumption of innocence for the accused, and this is on display in the other comments on this post.

  11. First to be clear, Mr. 4C is a jerk, @ss, etc.
    What I was surprised NOT to hear anywhere from Ms. 4A is that SHE NEVER ASKED HIM TO STOP. We all have personal responsibility first and foremost for ourselves and what makes us feel comfortable. This isn’t grade school: step #1 isn’t tell the teacher, step #2 isn’t write to the principle.
    If we don’t make a modicum of effort on our own behalf why should we expect anyone else to?

  12. @Steve – her tweets are news because she’s the sister of Facebook’s CEO. It’s significant context. It does not diminish her argument or right not to be harassed by the idiot next to her.

  13. Hi Gary,
    I found this article interesting and very disgusting. This should not happen to any female passenger ever, on any airline in any class of service. I think the man should have been moved to a seat next to another man, not a woman. I don’t care if this guy flies the airline every day. He shouldn’t be allowed to get away with this behavior ever and the flight attendants were wrong, all the way around. Especially now with the fresh awareness of sexual harassment. If it was me I would sue this guy and really get some sort of compensation from Alaska. This disappoints on another level and that is that A;laska is such a good airline.
    I am sure that this guy does the same thing at his job!!!!! Co-worker beware!!!!!!

  14. Re-seating the victim does not address the issue or attempt to prevent re-occurrence. The fact that Alaska employees were not surprised by the behavior, but instead expected it and allowed it to persist gives the impression that they’re enablers. I agree with Dave; did she ever mention that the conversation topic needed to change? My own remedy is to feign tiredness, put on the headphones and close my eyes.

  15. Obviously the guy is a jerk . . . but it takes two to have a conversation. I’m wondering how it would have gone if she had ignored him entirely, struck up other conversations with passengers, and went about her flight as normal. People like him are often LOOKING for an outraged reaction—and she gave him exactly what he was looking for.

  16. This is a horrible story all around. Have we not heard of instances where the flight crew reports unacceptable behavior to the Captain who has highest authority on that flight? I’ve heard dozens of stories where the Captain will come to intervene, speak to the people involved, and, if not resolved, tosses the offending passenger off the flight. Problem solved.

  17. It will be interesting if any more information comes forward after the invedtigation. If what she wrote is entirely factual, then it sounds like personnel at Alaska Airlines enabled his behavior, so they should in no way be applauded for how they “handled” it. They didn’t handle it.

  18. The FA’s can set the atmosphere. If they are familiar with the problem passenger, have had many complaints about him, and still don’t do anything about it, then they are part of the problem. He may have even harassed them in his travels, but they still didn’t take any proactive measures to stop his behavior.

  19. Many of the comments were made upon boarding, before the flight even left the gate. He should’ve been removed at the gate – especially since they knew about his issues in the past. When the FA’s took a patronizing approach and fueled his behavior with drinks and winks, they perpetuated the myth that women who have a problem with that type of behavior are in the wrong – not the behavior itself. If it had been a 15 year old girl sitting there instead of Randi, would they have handled it differently?

  20. @Cynthia Kelley: “I found this article interesting and very disgusting. This should not happen to any female passenger ever, on any airline in any class of service.”

    This shouldn’t have to happen to any passenger, period – I don’t see why women are the only ones who are included here.

  21. I am hoping that some significant good comes out of this for the flying public. It is a big enough story that all the airlines now know about it. Hopefully they will all review their procedures for these types of passengers (the drunk/harasser) and do a much better job of handling them in the future. I am 100% with RZ – why should she have to move? She is not the problem and she should not be punished because of the jerk next to her. So, I tip my hat to RZ for using the platform that she has to speak up and hopefully invoke change for the rest of the flying public who have no platform.

  22. I will simply address how this gets handled on my airplane. I always brief my inflight crew members that I have zero tolerance for any pax being abusive towards them or another passenger. So if this guy is a know problem child who is being inappropriate he’s off the airplane IMMEDIATELY. Gone goodby no second chances.

    Inflight should never have allowed that aircraft off the gate given how this low life was behaving. You don’t move him to another seat you GET HIM OFF THE PLANE!

  23. Wow.

    4C obv a jerk, but you’re letting the FA’s off the hook way too easily.

    First, this wouldn’t have been dealt with/responded to by Alaska Execs had it been a lowly plebe.

    Second, If he’s been doing this for a long time on “his” route, then the FAs have either not reported this before (and previous passengers have been victimized with no such compensation or investigation), or their reports went unheard. Neither is a great look.

    Third, serving a bad passenger alcohol is only making things worse. Period. There are no two ways around it. Alcohol lowers inhibitions, which this man clearly did not need any aid from. In doing so, it’s not only enabling a jackass, but insulting his seat-mate in one fell swoop.

    Just completely terrible.

    And to the commenters who say “well why didn’t she say anything to him?!” Really? You really think that socially-inept-jackass that has been doing this flight-after-flight for eons just needed her to ask politely for him to stop and he would have left her alone for the next 3 hours?
    You don’t think he was doing this _intentionally_ to get a rise out of the female exec sitting next to him in First?

    Riiight. You know, I’ve got some priceless swampland to sell you at a great deal. You in?

  24. Am I the only person that finds Facebook CEO’s sister posting on Twitter about this interesting. Was Facebook not enough?

  25. The only alternative wasn’t an empty seat at the back of the plane. The FA could have found a man willing to trade so the jackass was not seated next to any woman.

  26. Gary, your analysis of the situation is so myopic it borders on incredulous especially for someone who is an AV geek/blogger.

    This passenger was creating a hostile and potentially combustible environment. He needed to go, period. Divert the plane. The route is along the Mexican coast. It’s not like you are in the middle of the pacific. There have been stories of people being Tasered and restrained with zip-ties and belts on flights so simply diverting seems perfectly within the realm of reason. The captain could even announce any phony justification for diverting but then have cops haul this guy’s sorry butt off the plane once they landed. In human history how often was it it better to just “wait and see” and hope things don’t get worse rather than take appropriate action?

    Would he deserve to stay on the plane if he has hurling racist or homophobic comments? Hell, what if that someone on the receiving end or someone coming to the defense of the victim decided to punch him in his eff-ing face and we now have a full on brawl going down (remember that guy who wanted to fight that FA for aggressively interacting with that mom a while back).

    I am done with your blog. At least The Points Guy was willing to admit he got things wrong initially when reporting the David Dao/United incident.

  27. Gary, I have read your column for years and I used to respect you until today. I’m a 17 year Alaska gold member and I will call out my airline if you won’t. Saying Alaska airlines is NOT a jerk for wilfully and knowingly allowing and permitting harassment about their flights shows just how wrong you really are. If your wife was passenger 4A and subjected to this would you still have the same opinion? If this happened to my wife, I would on my way to Brad Tilden’s office at SEA. I can’t believe that you would consider harassment on your wife unabated by the flight crew as acceptable.

  28. Lifetime ban or at the least never , ever served alcohol . But , I like lifetime ban and the airlines should all cooperate on this . Of course I am very unfashionable in that I believe there should be consequences for bad behavior .
    Whatever their excuses the FA’s should get a time out as well .
    It doesn’t matter who was the victim .

  29. Janice’s comment got it right—for someone to not attempt to handle it, and run to authorities instead, is childish. After decades of women’s empowerment, this episode portrays a woman as a hapless victim who needs authorities to swoop in and save her. Unfortunate

  30. You missed this one. Since she complained BEFORE they left the gate, he’s a known harasser, they should have escorted him off the phone pronto. And comped her flight for having to put up with this idiot to begin with. They know he’s like this and they allow him to fly–that makes them just as liable as the perv. Shame on them. Only after finding out who she is and her posting to social media, does AA do the right thing and remove him from fly list. If it was little ol’ me (a nobody) and I didn’t post to social media, I would have had to file a DOT complaint before even receiving a response.

  31. Steve: Go back to your cave. She doesn’t sound ‘entitled.’ Why should she have to move–she wasn’t the one doing anything wrong. Grow up and stop blaming women for the perverted acts of men.

  32. Steve: Go back to your cave. She doesn’t sound ‘entitled.’ Why should she have to move–she wasn’t the one doing anything wrong. Grow up and stop blaming women for the perverted acts of men.

    Chad: Where in this story do you get the idea that she gave him the reaction he wanted? And that if she ignored him, he’d shut up. Does that work on people who won’t shut up on planes? And how do you know she didn’t tell him to leave her alone? And if she didn’t, perhaps she was scared to–you never know what these pervs will do.

    Honestly, if this happened to your mother, your wife, your sister or your daughter–would you all be blaming her? SHAME ON YOU.

  33. Chad (or should I call you Trump because it sure as heck sounds like him): “Janice’s comment got it right—for someone to not attempt to handle it, and run to authorities instead, is childish. After decades of women’s empowerment, this episode portrays a woman as a hapless victim who needs authorities to swoop in and save her. Unfortunate” REALLY? And JANICE? SHAME ON YOU AS WELL. Blame the woman. Make her fix it. And for those who want to just move him to another seat? Remove him entirely from the flight (not move him to sit next to someone else, female or male) and bother them for the next 3 hours. As some of these pervs are learning “actions have consequences.”

    The test will be when a woman on an assembly line or in an office (and not in the entertainment field) will feel comfortable reporting such behavior without fear of reprisal. That’s the true test.

  34. Certainly — first and foremost — it matters not what Ms. Zuckerberg’s last name may be, or who her relatives might be. The ONLY difference that makes is that her subsequent “tweets” (probably) garnered more attention after the fact than would Ms. Jones’ or Ms. Smith’s tweets. Alaska should treat ALL of their customers equally, whether they are an “elite” frequent flier in First Class, or a first-time passenger in Economy.

    Secondly, while I understand Ms. Zuckerberg’s comment (“Why should I have to move? I am the one that is being harassed!”), I will say that sometimes it *MAY* be easier to re-seat “her” rather than “him.” I do not know if that was the case here, but I do believe that “who should move” must be decided on a case-by-case basis. And while I agree that it *might* result in a change in the class of service, I don’t know why, for example, one of the parties couldn’t change seats with someone else in the same class of service — in this case, seat Ms. Zuckerberg next to (if possible) a woman in First, or move the gentleman next to a defensive lineman from the Seattle Seahawks.

    Finally, Gary FREQUENTLY writes about alcohol consumption onboard aircraft. I wold simply repeat the key point aircrews seem to ignore: it is ILLEGAL to serve someone alcohol if they are already intoxicated. Some people imbibe as much alcohol as they can before they board the aircraft, and if this is the case (i.e.: they show obvious signs of intoxication), it is the inflight crew’s obligation NOT to serve the individual. Period. Others get inebriated once they board the plane. The solution here is a simple one, yet one most airlines seem reluctant to implement. On flights of [insert number here] hours duration¹, limit alcohol consumption to TWO drinks (beer, wine, distillates) per individual. Anyone caught buying someone else a drink as a way to get around this rule will result in their being “cut-off” as well. Anyone who creates a disturbance onboard the aircraft can be turned over to the police upon landing and be stripped of any elite status they may hold with the airline.

    It’s not that difficult. But what it DOES take is education — teaching the in-flight teams not just corporate policy, but the law as well.

  35. Sorry — forgot the footnote:

    ¹ This would be long enough to, for example cover the distance between LAX and JFK, but not so long as to interfere with serve onboard intercontinental flights where bot lunch and dinner may be served.

  36. @Shirley If all of these things happened at the gate with the door open,then I will double down on my comment, the crew botched this. In the air, its about safety, not “right” or “wrong” Reread my post.

    @Steve “a bit of a micro-aggression” ? I just threw up in my mouth a little. What are you, 22 yrs old?

    How do you walk out the door every day, with slivers of micro-aggression everywhere waiting to pounce …

  37. Passenger 4A complained to flight attendants about passenger 4C.
    Flight attendant offered a solution to 4A.
    Passenger 4A chose not to take solution offered by flight attendant
    Passenger 4A sent a letter of complaint to airline
    Airline is investigating complaint and is taking measures.

    Bravo to passenger 4A for being civilized and writing the letter to the airline.
    Bravo to flight attendants for handling the situation so it did not escalate.
    Bravo to airline for investigating the situation.
    And to 4C and the rest of the uncivilized…. well, you know.

  38. “No one got hurt”

    Gary did you read the letter?
    Harassment is harm.

    It is that fundamental lack of understanding that partly fuels and allows these behaviors

  39. Headphones? Cant be offended by what you cant hear. Pretty simple solution. Also video/audio recording proof.

  40. Years ago, I had boarded a Delta flight out of Atlanta in First and the woman in the aisle seat in front of me was cursing loudly and somewhat incoherently and seemingly drunk. An FA asked her to quiet down and she refused getting only louder. The captain came out of the the cockpit (all door closing) and told her that she’d have to be quiet or he’d have her removed from the plane. He asked for her promise, she gave it and promptly fell asleep for the entire flight. I realize that, despite the “promise”, it could have worked out poorly, but I thought the crew handled the situation very well and that “command intervention” from the cockpit may have defused the AK situation better than the FA’s insulting suggestion to the aggrieved passenger

  41. I hear a lot of support for “Stand your ground” (don’t give up your seat).
    I hear that everyone takes the victims story at face value, before Alaska Air investigates.
    I hear that the behavior is similar to Trumps stereotypical behavior.

    What I am interested in is “corroborating witnesses”.
    I am interested in finding out how many other Airline customers anywhere and at anytime have seen this type of behavior first hand.
    I want to hear from Flight Attendants if they feel too intimidated to remove unruly, frequent customers. I definitely want to fly only with Flight Attendants that feel empowered to run the cabin during the duration of the flight.

    My experience with air travel is that sometimes I sit next to someone that takes my armrest, reclines during the entire flight, converses loudly, plays the headphones loud enough for me to hear them, crying babies, crying adults, customers that need to use the bathroom repeatedly, etc.

    In all my travels, I have not crossed paths with an intoxicated, turrets babbling, lunatic. All of the pieces fit together so perfectly in her story, that it seems a little incredible that no mitigating options were exercised before the flight left the gate.
    This was the perfect storm: perfect victim with a forum; perfect harassing comments made, perfect ignorance by the cabin crew, perfect timing with respect to pointing it out before departure, and perfect circumstances of continuing to serve alcoholic beverages, and the perfect profit incentive by Alaska Airlines to not remediate the problem.
    So, hopefully we hear consistent corroborating statements from other passengers and crew, to show that this perfect story was not exaggerated or stretched. Although I doubt it was, her incentive is not enough compared to her probable wealth, the need for attention can lead to a distorted version of the facts from an otherwise rational and objective person.

    By the way, I fly coach, so I may not be privy to the hassles and troubles experienced in first class. I sure wish I could see it first hand.
    Also, I would like to hear from Southwest Airlines, how they plan to control random seat assignments to prevent children traveling separately from their siblings and/or parents, from sitting next to customers that may exhibit behavior described in this post, which may not be discovered until after the damage is done and the flight is over. Yes, yes, I know, Southwest is a random seating airline unless you pay for Priority boarding. But what we have learned from Randi Zuckerburg, is that if the Flight Attendant does nothing about a bad customer, and other customers don’t point it out, then the airline and captain, who is responsible for the flight, is liable for protecting children/minors traveling separately from their guardians/parents that could give voice to and represent the children.
    I am going to say this one more time: imagine your child by himself/herself is seated in first class, next to this unruly customer. Even Encyclopedia Brown can deduce that, after the plane lands and the parents learn what happened and that the cabin crew did not take corrective action for whatever reason, the airline will be in a world of hurt explaining why they allowed this to happen to a child and why it is Corporate policy. In other words, Airlines will need to work toward assigned seating for minors so that parents can protect them in flight since Airlines and cabin crew cannot and/or will not.

  42. Gary, Thanks for posting this important story. We live in amazing times. Three months ago you might have expected a “boys will be boys” or “what’s her problem?” response from a reader. Our Predator in Chief has unwittingly started a revolution by characterizing bragging about sexually assaulting women as “locker room talk”. The airline is at fault by creating an environment where the staffs’ best option is to cajole someone and hope they will be civil, but only through a 2017 retrospectoscope where this kind of behavior is no longer considered “boys being boys”. I am delighted for our mothers, wives, sisters, and daughters that we are finally choosing as a society to identify this behavior as unacceptable. I am not a fan of identifying every microagression that occurs but this is not a microagression.

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