A Phoenix-based Southwest Airlines flight attendant has sued the airline, accusing the Dallas-based carrier of retaliation after she reported spotting two pilots livestreaming video from the lavatory to an iPad in the cockpit on one of her flights.
A suit filed in federal court for the District of Arizona alleges that on Feb. 27, 2017, Renee Steinaker was working as a flight attendant on Flight 1088 between Pittsburgh and Phoenix.
The suit alleges that 2½ hours into the flight, the pilot, Capt. Terry Graham, asked Steinaker to come to the cockpit so that he could leave to use the restroom. Southwest Airlines policy requires two crew members in the cockpit at all times, so Steinaker was asked to staff the cockpit with co-pilot Ryan Russell in Graham's absence.
The suit states that when Steinaker entered the cockpit, she spotted an iPad mounted to the windshield to the left of the captain’s seat. On it, she reportedly could see a live stream of what appeared to be Graham in the bathroom.
The filing states that Russell looked panicked and told her the cameras were a new top-secret security measure that had been installed in all Southwest Airlines planes, which Steinaker did not believe to be true.
"They led her to believe that she and others had been filmed — had been videotaped if you will — while they were using the lavatory. It's really hard to imagine a more outrageous kind of conduct," aviation attorney Ronald L.M. Goldman, who is representing Steinaker, told the Arizona Republic. Goldman is a senior partner at Baum Hedlund Aristei Goldman, with offices in California, Pennsylvania and Washington, DC.
According to the court filing, Steinaker took a photograph of the iPad with her cellphone to document the incident.
Upon landing, the pilots violated airline protocol and "disembarked, leaving the aircraft unattended by piloting staff," Steinaker alleges in the suit. It also claims that Graham "left a loaded firearm unattended in the cockpit, a violation of FAA regulations."
Steinaker and other crew members reported the incident to the airline. The suit claims the pilots were allowed to proceed to their next flight and they continue to fly with the airline today.
Steinaker claims she was told not to talk to anybody about the incident and was warned that "if this got out, if this went public, no one, I mean no one, would ever fly our airline again."
Goldman also represents Steinaker's husband, David, also a Southwest flight attendant.
The suit alleges the Steinakers have faced retaliation through stalking, being monitored by managers in a "threatening and bizarre manner" and being subjected to an increased number of performance audits.
"In my view, Southwest Airlines has treated this as 'how dare they report it' rather than 'thank you for letting us know,'" Goldman said.
In an emailed statement to the Arizona Republic, a representative for Southwest Airlines said:
"The safety and security of our employees and customers is Southwest’s uncompromising priority. As such, Southwest does not place cameras in the lavatories of our aircraft. At this time, we have no other comment on the pending litigation."
We reached out to the attorney representing the two pilots named in the suit by email and phone. We will update this story when we receive a response.
In court, attorneys for the pilots have denied that the two engaged in livestreaming the lavatory. Court filings also deny that the two violated any airline policy or protocol.
To Goldman, the incident indicates both privacy and safety concerns.
"In my opinion as an aviation lawyer with many years of experience, this does compromise the safety of flight and the safety of passengers, not even to mention for the potential of violating the privacy of all of the passengers as well as the crew," Goldman said.