An American Airlines flight attendant was arrested for secretly recording or attempting to record a minor female passenger using a lavatory aboard an aircraft in September 2023.
The attendant is also alleged to have retained recordings of four additional minor female passengers using bathrooms aboard the same aircraft, the U.S. attorney’s office for the District of Massachusetts said.
Estes Carter Thompson III, 36, of Charlotte, N.C., was charged with one count of attempted sexual exploitation of children and one count of possession of child pornography depicting a prepubescent minor.
“The deeply disturbing conduct alleged here is something no parent or child should ever have to worry about when they travel. Mr. Thompson allegedly used his position to prey on and surreptitiously record innocent children, including unaccompanied minors, while in a vulnerable state aboard flights he was working,” said Acting United States Attorney Joshua S. Levy.
According to a criminal complaint, Thompson was working as a flight attendant on an American Airlines flight to Boston from Charlotte on Sept. 2, 2023.
Before the 14-year-old girl victim entered the lavatory, Thompson allegedly told her that he needed to wash his hands and that the lavatory’s toilet seat was broken and briefly entered the lavatory.
It is alleged that, after Thompson exited the lavatory, the minor entered and noticed red stickers beneath the raised toilet seat lid. These stickers indicated, “INOPERATIVE CATERING EQUIPMENT” and “REMOVE FROM SERVICE.” Additionally, “SEAT BROKEN” was handwritten in black ink on one of the stickers.
Thompson purportedly hid his iPhone beneath the red stickers, intending to record a video. The minor then reportedly used her phone to capture an image of both the red stickers and the concealed iPhone inside the lavatory before leaving. Thompson then allegedly re-entered the lavatory after her departure.
Upon returning to her seat, the minor briefed her parents about the incident and presented them with the captured image, according to the U.S. attorney’s office. The victim’s parents then reported the incident to other flight attendants, who, in turn, alerted the captain. The captain subsequently informed law enforcement on the ground about the matter.
In a statement after Thompson’s arrest, American Airlines said that it takes “these allegations very seriously,” per a New York Times report.
“We have been fully cooperating with law enforcement in its investigation as there is nothing more important than the safety and security of our customers and team,” the airline added.
If proven guilty of attempted sexual exploitation of children, Thompson could be sentenced to a maximum of 30 years in prison. Additionally, a conviction on the child pornography possession charge may lead to imprisonment for up to 20 years, as stated by prosecutors.