Chinese American passenger sues United Airlines for $100K over lunchbox dispute


A Chinese American passenger is suing United Airlines, claiming he was discriminated against by a flight attendant.

A passenger’s legal demands: Yubo Miao, a 64-year-old U.S. citizen of Chinese descent, is demanding $100,000 in damages from the carrier, citing racial discrimination and retaliation after a lunchbox dispute led to his removal from a flight and temporary ban, reported PYOK.

Behind the lawsuit: Miao alleged in a civil complaint he filed last week that he was subjected to verbal abuse and false accusations of physical contact by a flight attendant while he was aboard flight UA2683 from Chicago to San Diego on June 1, 2023.

Incident details: A frequent United Airlines flyer, Miao boarded the plane carrying two suitcases and a lunchbox, placing all three items in the overhead bin. He said the flight attendant yelled at him, instructing him to remove the lunch bag from the overhead bin and place it under his seat.

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Miao initially placed the lunchbox on an empty seat next to him and told the flight attendant that he would move it to the floor after the passenger for the vacant seat arrived. The flight attendant, however, allegedly threatened to inform the plane's captain if he didn’t move the lunchbox to the floor. In his separate complaint to United, Miao noted that while he immediately complied, a United Airlines supervisor would later order him off the plane because the flight attendant had claimed he hit her.

Represented by his lawyer, Miao demanded to have his purported ban overturned, all-related documentation destroyed, for all involved parties to issue apologies and for the airline to pay $100,000 in combined damages and legal fees.

Alleged retaliation: The investigation conducted by United's Passenger Incident Review Committee concluded Miao had made physical contact but rescinded the ban against him. While Miao was allowed to fly United again, he said he constantly faced retaliation from the incident as he was being stopped by agents who asked him if he was willing to comply with federal regulations.

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When the airline failed to respond to his demands, Miao filed his lawsuit in a U.S. District Court in Illinois, seeking $100,000 in damages for mental anguish, an apology from United and the flight attendant and a guarantee of fair treatment. He said he felt singled out because the flight attendant allowed a white passenger with similar luggage to keep theirs in the cabin.

“It is clear that United intended to discriminate against Miao on the basis of his race and national origin as other non-Asian passengers were not treated in a similar manner or were removed from the flight despite having similar bags that the United flight attendant took issue with. The conduct was so outrageous an award for compensatory damages is inadequate, and punitive damages should be awarded to punish United for its misconduct.”

United's cabin requirements: Like most airlines, United Airlines allows passengers to bring one carry-on bag and one personal item onboard. The carry-on bag must meet specific size and weight restrictions, while the personal item should fit under the seat in front of the passenger. In his lawsuit, Miao doesn’t argue that he should have been allowed to store more luggage in the overhead locker than is technically permitted but notes that flight attendants singled him out while Caucasian passengers weren’t challenged for doing the same.

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