American Airlines is facing a joint lawsuit alleging racial discrimination after an incident onboard a flight in May. The lawsuit was filed by Elgin Banks, a black man from Arizona, who was removed from the flight after he tried to switch his seat. Joining the lawsuit are four other passengers, defending Banks and his claim.
Details of the incident
According to NBC News, the suit states that Banks boarded the American Airlines flight on May 31 from Los Angeles to Phoenix. Upon boarding, Banks “politely requested if the flight was full and if he could change seats if open seats were available.”
The lawsuit alleges that the crew told Banks that he would be able to move to a different seat after boarding was complete. It goes on to say that several passengers (who were not black) switched seats after it was announced that boarding was complete.
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The lawsuit continues by saying that Banks asked a flight attendant if he could sit closer to the front of the plane.
“The flight attendant replied, ‘Sir, step back,’ in an aggressive and rudely intimidating tone. Elgin replied, ‘okay ma’am, all I was asking is if I could get a seat closer to the front.’ ” – Lawsuit against American Airlines via NBC
Banks was told not to raise his voice and to sit down, instructions which he complied with. However, shortly after, Banks was approached by security and instructed to get off the plane.
Recounting the incident, Banks told media: “I was scared…I didn’t know what was going on,” reports Dallas News.
Fellow passengers also removed
Several passengers spoke up, asking why Banks was being removed. The attorney representing Banks and the other plaintiffs, Theida Salazar, said, “It was the passengers around him that implored him, ‘Sir, you didn’t do anything wrong. You shouldn’t be getting ejected from the flight.'”
Nonetheless, Banks and the other passengers were removed from the flight. The suit states that this was because “each of them were witnesses advocating for Elgin.”
Salazar says that Banks and the group were subsequently banned by American Airlines.
Response from American Airlines
Unsurprisingly, American Airlines paints a different picture leading up to the removal of Banks and the other passengers. The airline says that after boarding flight AA1931, Banks requested to be seated in the first class cabin but was told he was ineligible for an upgrade and had to remain in his assigned seat. American Airlines had the following statement for Simple Flying:
“During the boarding process, he attempted to relocate to the first class cabin prior to leaving the gate. One of the seats he attempted to sit in was assigned to another passenger.”
The airline goes on to say that the disruption on board required deplaning passengers with the flight departing the next day.
“Discrimination of any kind is not acceptable and does not align with our values, which is why we launched an investigation when were made aware of the allegations. We are continuing to review this incident, but we believe that the allegations are not a full or accurate portrayal of the incident.” – American Airlines
According to the airline, all affected customers were provided with a hotel voucher unless they lived locally, as is per its policy.
Contrary to the lawsuit, American Airlines says that the passengers were not banned.
With both sides of the story presented, was the cabin crew’s decision to remove Banks and fellow passengers a case of racial discrimination? Would the same have happened to a passenger of different skin color if they had also attempted to ‘self-upgrade’? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.