Co-Pilot Feared 'Deranged,' Naked Southwest Captain Would Crash the Plane: Suit
After the incident, the airline allegedly protected the predator and punished the victim for reporting it
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The usual content warnings: Some graphic language referring to alleged sexual assault
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Alarming new revelations in the Southwest Airlines Cockpit Creep case
A refresher: Now-retired Southwest Airlines Captain Michael Haak is a 6’4” former U.S. Air Force airman who got naked at 40,000 feet, watched porn on his tablet, and allegedly masturbated in a bolt-locked cockpit while then-First Officer Christine Janning sat horrified but steadfast at the controls.
And now Janning’s legal team has filed a second amended complaint with fresh, vivid details about what it was like to be trapped in that cockpit with Haak.
What jumped out at me from the 57-page document filed in July:
Capt. Janning believed Capt. Haak, who’s been convicted on related federal charges, might bring down the plane either on purpose or accidentally. You can see why. As the hulking perv is allegedly masturbating instead of doing his job, a “deranged” Haak is saying things like “if I’m going out, I’m going out with a bang” and it will be the “last flight” he “would ever fly,” court papers say.
Haak could’ve been stopped before he allegedly assaulted Janning and put passengers’ lives at risk (!)—but there was a cover-up. A new name in the mix is Southwest’s Senior Director of Labor Relations Carl Kuwitsky, a former Southwest Airlines Pilots’ Association (SWAPA) president the airline “hired specifically to negotiate against the very Pilots he used to represent.”* Kuwitsky knows where the bodies are buried** and had in-depth prior knowledge of earlier reports that Haak sexually assaulted or harassed multiple fellow employees, but allegedly conspired to hide them, retaliate against Janning, and protect Haak.
If I’d been on that flight from Philadelphia to Orlando on August 10, 2020, I might be dialing a lawyer right about now.
1. Janning acted to protect everyone on that flight
Let’s unpack a new claim of false imprisonment. Writes Janning’s attorney, Frank Podesta of FGP Law, LLC:
The cockpit is an extremely small and enclosed space, with flight controls immediately available to all parties in the space…
Cpt. Haak [bolt-locked the door and] intentionally blocked Ms. Janning’s exit from the cockpit and refused to allow her to leave…
…Ms. Janning feared that (a) the naked and stronger Cpt. Haak would rape her or sexually fondle her in the cockpit; (b) resisting the naked and stronger Cpt. Haak would cause contact with the flight controls that would cause the aircraft to crash; (c) the naked and stronger Cpt. Haak would intentionally use the flight controls to crash the aircraft during and after his visibly deranged conduct; (d) Ms. Janning would not survive the flight; and (e) that the passengers would not survive the flight.
I mean…right? You can’t predict a deranged person’s actions. Janning couldn’t have known what Haak’s engame or intentions were or what he would do next. Apart from anything else, Haak’s behavior was extremely bizarre.
Anyway, Haak demanded Janning watch porn with him and when she refused (women everywhere will be nodding along to this part), this “severely angered” the captain, the complaint says:
…among other things, Cpt. Haak said “if I’m going out, I’m going out with a bang.”
This comment would carry ominous implications under any circumstance, but was especially worrisome while a deranged captain was bolt-locked in a cockpit in front of the controls to a commercial Boeing 737 aircraft with more than one hundred passengers on board.
To this extent, Cpt. Haak utilized the aircraft itself as a weapon with which to threaten Ms. Janning.
You can read the entire document here:
Southwest sniffs at such claims
The airline filed a speedy motion to dismiss, in which it says Capt. Janning’s description of what it’s like to be 5’ 2” and the most sane person in the cockpit…
“…contains trumped up allegations, which are not based in fact, such as her new ‘fear’ that Captain Haak attempted to use a Southwest Airlines aircraft as a weapon…but these sensationalized allegations do not save Plaintiff’s claims.”
I love that “fear” is in “quotation marks.” As if it’s all very normal what their longtime pilot did, and if the 5’ 2” Janning wanted to get out, she should’ve politely asked the gigantic naked man with the erection, who surely would’ve thrown open the door and given cabin crew and passengers a peep show?
Plaintiff alleges that she “realized it would be unsafe for her to fight her way out the cockpit” but her realization appears to be unsupported conjecture. The Second Amended Complaint does not allege that Haak ever prevented her from leaving the cockpit.
So, Southwest: you think it’s reasonable or possible for your F.O. to abandon the controls mid-flight and try to push past the naked lunatic? How would that have turned out? I find this utterly disingenuous. Have you met today’s human airline passengers?
If a grouchy economy-class guy, a cage fighter, a linebacker or just a very tense drunk person sees their captain naked through the open door, how do you see that ending?
Furthermore—and correct me if I’m wrong, aviation people—since 9/11, is it even legal to have only one pilot in the cockpit of a commercial aircraft? Like, what if F.O. Janning had been able to burst out of the door to escape, leaving Haak standing buck-naked away from his station? Isn’t that against federal law?
We all know Janning had no way out. Period.
(Seriously: If I’d been flying Southwest between Orlando and Philly in August 2020, I’d be dialing a lawyer).
2. Kuwitsky and the cover-up claims
I’ve written about the earlier defamation, retaliation, obstruction and conspiracy claims directed at SWA and SWAPA in Capt. Janning’s lawsuit before, so have a look there for a refresher.
You might remember that the earlier complaint names Capt. Michael Haak’s two pals and bosses—then-Orlando Chief Pilot Michael Hawkes and, above him, then-Headquarters Chief Pilot for Southwest Operations David Newton—who were allegedly slandering Janning in the run-up to Haak’s August 2020 cockpit performance, telling various coworkers that she was a “slut” and a “whore.”
With this new filing, another pal, ex-SWAPA president and now-Southwest Senior Director of Labor Relations Carl Kuwitsky, enters the picture (I contacted SWA for comment about the case on their behalf and his, and they had no comment. Their MTD doesn’t mention him at all).
On Kuwitsky’s watch as SWAPA’s leader, the complaint says,
SWAPA and Southwest had an agreement which was led by Mr. Kuwitsky (among others) to protect Cpt. Haak and other tenured male pilots from their [indiscretions] with female pilots and flight attendants.
When Mr. Kuwitsky moved over from SWAPA to Southwest [around 2017] the situation did not change.
Neither Southwest, nor SWAPA did anything to prevent sexual assault, sexual battery, sexual harassment and/or other sexual abuses from being inflicted by tenured male pilots upon female pilots and flight attendants.
Long before 2020, Kuwitsky knew all about other crew members who reported sexual assaults and harassment by Haak. In fact, Kuwitsky knew so much about the previous incidents that around 2008, he personally negotiated Haak’s “rehabilitation” at Charm School “rather than a more severe (and appropriate) punishment.”
So, when he shuffled across the aisle from union to airline management, the complaint says,
Mr. Kuwitsky brought actual knowledge of Cpt. Haak’s sexual predation to Southwest.
Nonetheless, Mr. Kuwitsky did nothing to mitigate against Cpt. Haak’s predation.
With Haak again accused of sexual offenses in 2020 when Kuwitsky was now in management at SWA, and with Haak again allegedly protected, you get the sense from reading Janning’s newest filing that it’s all very cozy.
So against this backdrop, Janning, as the victim reporting the incident for which perpetrator Haak was convicted in federal court, was thrown to the wolves and retaliated against by those who should’ve protected her. Her lawyer’s filing says:
Each of Mr. Kuwitsky, Cpt. Hawkes and Cpt. Newton agreed to play a part, both in their individual capacity and as officers of Southwest, to protect Cpt. Haak and to retaliate against Ms. Janning.
Mr. Kuwitsky, Cpt. Hawkes and Cpt. Newton then brought Ms. [Helen] Yu [then-lead attorney for SWAPA] into the agreement to protect Cpt. Haak and to retaliate against Ms. Janning by grounding her from flight duty and refusing her the FAA’s 180-day extension to return to flight without simulator training, among other things [such as questioning her psychological fitness in writing, which the suit says damaged her reputation within SWA]…
Let’s not forget that SWAPA vice president Michael Santoro sent a letter of support for Haak when he was facing criminal charges, writing that “Captain Haak did not have any employment-related issues nor complaints for which he would have required union representation” and closing the letter with “Captain Haak had spotless employment and training records.” (Read it in full, along with more about Southwest’s alleged retaliation, back at my original story).
This is patently, demonstrably false, Janning’s suit says, especially in light of the fact all these people knew for years that Haak was sent to “Charm School” as “punishment” for his earlier alleged offenses.
Speaking generally of the cases I’ve written about here, all this makes me wonder what it must be like to have your union, your managers, their managers, and of course your own colleagues supporting your assailant while trying to discredit and silence you. Where do you turn when even your own union leaves you twisting in the wind? What do you do?
Which leads me to this part, where Janning reports the incident to the FBI and Southwest is like oh hell no, let’s blatantly obstruct justice to avoid accountability (allegedly):
In late 2020, while the FBI was investigating the Incident, Ms. Yu, Mr. Kuwitsky, Cpt. Hawkes and Cpt. Newton conspired and agreed….to….[direct] their staffs, in writing, to not cooperate with the FBI investigation.
This earned both SWAPA and Southwest an aggressive rebuke from the FBI.
You don’t say?
As a passenger, you should find this culture terrifying.
The late pilot Jeff Hefner, formerly a captain at Southwest Airlines, told me in a wide-ranging interview months before his tragic death in a crash in Virginia that Janning was never going to be treated as the victim, even in light of the vile things Haak did in that cockpit.
“Haak [allegedly] stood there for 30 minutes naked jacking off in front of her,” Hefner said. “No pilot should have to be subjected to that. She’s been made the bad guy when she maintained her cool and her composure and professionalism and handled all the radio calls, and she did everything that needed to be done to protect the crew and passengers at the back of the airplane. There’s nothing she could have done except what she did.”
I asked him why he believes these men continue to get away with offending in the year 2023, and why victims are retaliated against in too many cases to count. We had a long talk about the rot inside these airlines, but one thing Jeff said stuck out to me:
“Because we let them,” he said. “I call it drift toward failure. Drift toward failure is a concept in air safety where you allow [deviations] and deficiencies to continue until it becomes normal behavior and leads to [catastrophe]. It normalizes something that is not normal.”
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*Quote from an article by Kevin Hornburg in the July 2023 issue of Reporting Point.
**This is a colloquialism. I am in no way alleging there are actual bodies.