A 33-year-old woman was flying a red-eye flight from San Diego to Charlotte, North Carolina, on Monday when a stranger took the seat next to her younger sister.
She said they were instantly nervous when he first spoke to them.
"He said, 'I get to sit next to the two most beautiful women on the plane,' and we were concerned," the woman, who did not want to be identified, told WSOC-TV.
The direct flight was more than four hours long, leaving late Monday from San Diego and arriving early Tuesday morning in Charlotte.
As the American Airlines flight was just taking off, the victim told WSOC the man leaned over.
"He actually reached over, over the top of the armrest that was separating he and I, and just basically rubbed down my entire thigh," she said.
She said one of his fingers briefly got caught in a hole in her jeans.
Her sister, seated in the window seat, told her to call the flight attendant. Instead, she wanted to handle it quietly.
"I hit his arm away from me, and just you know, made it very clear, do not touch me," she said.
The man mumbled something and she moved as close to her sister as possible, then later, fell asleep.
Earlier, she had noticed the smell of alcohol on the man's breath, but didn't think he was acting drunk.
She was jolted awake about an hour into the flight.
"I woke up to him completely on top of my left side. He had his arms on me and I was hitting him," she said.
She pressed the button for the flight attendant, who took the man to the front of the plane. She didn't see him again until they landed in Charlotte, and police were talking to him at the gate.
"The bruises came up the next morning, and I didn't know those were there, from kind of fighting him off of me," she said.
WSOC reached out to American Airlines Thursday, but did not receive a response.
The district attorney in San Diego said the office is not involved in the investigation.
It's not clear if the suspect has been identified. A report was filed with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg police, but the department told WSOC there were no arrests.