A 55-year-old widower from North Carolina said crew members on his Frontier Airlines flight accused him of trafficking the 12-year-old boy sitting next to him.
That boy was actually his adopted African American son, according to a federal lawsuit filed in August.
Hillsborough resident Peter DelVecchia sued Frontier and five employees who he said barricaded his son in the back row of the plane after lobbing false accusations of sex trafficking at him.
“As a group, (the crew) had no basis on which to suggest that Peter was engaging in human trafficking or unlawful sexual activities other than their shared belief that Peter, a white adult man, should not be traveling in the company of A.D., black male child,” the complaint says.
Neither the employees — which include flight attendants and the pilot — nor the child were identified in court documents.
Frontier asked to toss some of DelVecchia’s claims in a motion last week, saying the airline didn’t deny him services based on discrimination because it fulfilled a contractual obligation to transport DelVecchia and his son from Raleigh, North Carolina, to Las Vegas, Nevada.
Crew members were also merely acting on training to recognize potential human trafficking victims when they removed the child from DelVecchia’s presence, Frontier said.
“In this case, the flight attendants observed certain behavior between Peter and A.D. that led them to question Peter’s relationship with A.D. and to suspect human trafficking and abuse,” the motion states.
Frontier does not comment on pending litigation, a spokesperson told McClatchy news group Thursday.
DelVecchia and his son were traveling to Death Valley National Park during a break from school in March 2019 when he fell asleep on the plane, according to the complaint.
He said he was “abruptly awakened” when a flight attendant “struck him violently” on the head, causing a concussion.
The flight attendant then accused DelVecchia of trafficking his son before taking the child “against his will” to the last row of the plane and seating another male attendant between him and the aisle, according to court documents.
“A.D. asked repeatedly to be allowed to return to the seat beside his father, but Doe No. 1 and Does No. 2 through 4 would not allow A.D. to leave the seat in which Doe No. 1 had placed him,” the complaint states.
DelVecchia said the flight attendants ultimately falsely imprisoned his son for several hours, and t.he pilot reportedly “sanctioned” those actions.
“They refused to believe that Peter and A.D. are father and son, despite being told so by both Peter and A.D.,” the complaint states.
One crew member also allegedly touched A.D. inappropriately during this time., the complaint says.
DelVecchia said law enforcement was at the gate when they arrived. One flight attendant could be heard saying as he deplaned that the FBI was “waiting for your a**,” according to the complaint.
Frontier’s conduct caused DelVecchia and his son mental anguish and extreme emotional distress, the complaint says.
He is seeking compensatory and punitive damages for claims of discrimination, intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress, false imprisonment, batter, defamation and invasion of privacy.