The distinction between the first-class and coach-class cabins is always felt in some way, but when it comes to use of the appropriate lavatory, some airlines are more strict than others.

One couple seated in first class became so agitated by coach passengers using the bathroom at the front of an Alaska Airlines plane that it lead to a confrontation that apparently got physical. Now, the couple is suing the airline for more than $11,000 in damages, some of which were medical.

According to the Oregonian, the issue started on Feb. 16 when Jessica DeWitt and her boyfriend Michael Dobbs were flying first class from Las Vegas back to Portland after celebrating DeWitt’s birthday.

The couple’s attorney, Thomas Patton, told the newspaper that DeWitt had to use the restroom at one point but was forced to hold it while waiting for coach-class passengers who were coming to the front lavatory.

DeWitt asked the flight attendant if she would make an announcement regarding where passengers seated in coach should use the restroom and, apparently, the flight attendant “got real snippy,” the lawyer said.

When DeWitt finally was able to use the restroom, she alleges that the attendant slammed the door on her, injuring her shoulder in the process. The newspaper later reported that DeWitt suffered a rotator cuff injury and “impingement syndrome.”

Patton told the Oregonian that later during the flight the attendant handed the couple a form about their in-flight disturbance, saying they verbally assaulted her. But they disagreed. When the plane landed in Portland, DeWitt and Dobbs were escorted off the plane and questioned by police.

“It was embarrassing for them,” Patton told the newspaper, saying ultimately the couple was not served any charges.

The couple filed a lawsuit against the airline last week, seeking $11,498 in damages. Brian Cohen has a breakdown of these damages on his blog The Gate:

  • $1,498.00 for the medical expenses of DeWitt
  • $7,000.00 in “non-economic damages” for pain, suffering and inconvenience
  • $1,500.00 for humiliation of DeWitt from being taken into custody
  • $1,500.00 for humiliation of Dobbs from being taken into custody

Patton told the Oregonian that the airline tried to settle on DeWitt medical payments plus a little extra outside of court, but the couple denied the offer.

Cohen wrote that he believes there is “more to this story than meets the eye.”

“[A] flight attendant usually does not go through the trouble to fill out a form complaining about passengers unless absolutely warranted,” he continued. “[T]he real topic is the cause of what led up to this story in the first place: the age-old argument of whether or not passengers assigned to seats in the economy class cabin should be permitted to use lavatories located in a premium class cabin.”

While Cohen details several reasons why airlines often institute a policy that restricts use of the front lavatory for first-class passengers, he acknowledged that some emergency situations should be able to supersede the rules.

But where “should the line be drawn?” he asked.

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Front page image via Jordan Tan / Shutterstock.com.