Man accused of groping woman on Southwest Airlines flight from Houston to Nashville

By Sophia Beausoleil - Reporter, Cory McCord - Digital News Editor

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - A man accused of groping a female passenger on a Southwest Airlines flight Sunday night was arrested once the plane landed.

Police arrested Alfredo Vela, 30, who is from Houston. He was charged with sexual battery after authorities said he touched the woman without her permission.

Officials said the woman was touched inappropriately on Flight 4562 from Hobby Airport in Houston to Nashville. The flight landed in Tennessee around 9:20 p.m., and officers were at the gate waiting when passengers disembarked.

The woman told authorities that she was sitting next to Vela, whom she didn't know. She said she had a brief conversation with Vela before she fell asleep.

The woman told authorities that she woke up to Vela rubbing her back, according to court documents.

She also told authorities that Vela "rubbed her inner thigh, touched her breast and attempted to put his hand under her skirt," court documents said.

“You go on the plane and you’re going to your destination ... you’re thinking about is someone doing that to you. I think it’s terrible,” said Rita Williams, a passenger on a different Southwest Airlines flight.

The woman said she froze in fear and alerted the flight crew shortly after the incident.

“I think it would have frozen too. I would have been so shocked,” said Kim Jordan, a passenger on a different Southwest Airlines flight. “Honestly, for anybody to do such a thing in this day and age, knowing the awareness now, #MeToo movement, whatnot, it just stuns me that people are still that irresponsible. I don’t even know what word to use.”

The woman told authorities she did not consent to the touching.

During the investigation, Vela told officials he scratched the woman's back, according to court documents. He was subsequently charged by Tennessee authorities.

The woman spoke with KPRC Channel 2 News over the phone. She didn’t go into detail on what exactly happened but said it’s always important to speak up in cases of sexual assault.

Here is a statement from Southwest Airlines:

"Sunday evening, we requested law enforcement meet flight #4562 upon arrival into Nashville to investigate a Customer situation reported onboard. The passengers deplaned and the authorities conducted an investigation in the gate area. Southwest Crews are trained to take care of a wide range of sensitive customer issues, and we have zero tolerance for inappropriate behavior onboard our aircraft. If our Crews are made aware of a harmful situation -- whether witnessed first-hand or reported by someone else -- our Flight Attendants are responsible for notifying the Pilots who will request the appropriate authorities meet the aircraft on the ground. Southwest cooperates with law enforcement to the fullest extent to protect our customers and crews. We take the care and safety of our customers very seriously, it’s at the forefront of everything we do."

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