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African-American Passenger Accuses AA of Discrimination Over Seat Change

Rane Baldwin, who is black, says that her first class seat assignment was suddenly changed while her white friend was permitted to remain in her original seat.

An African-American passenger who says that she received racist treatment from American Airlines (AA) has formally filed a letter of complaint with the carrier.

The incident occurred on May 2nd when Rane Baldwin, who is black, and her friend, Janet Novack, who is white, checked in to travel onboard American Airlines Flight 5389 from Kentucky to North Carolina. Despite purchasing first class tickets for the pair, Baldwin explained to The Root that, when her boarding pass was scanned, she was offered a seat in economy at the rear of the plane while her friend was allowed to remain in her original seat assignment. Upon querying the change, Baldwin was informed that she had been given a different seat because a sudden change in plane had resulted in fewer first class seats.

Baldwin explained to the outlet that she tried to bring the matter to the attention of a member of the plane’s cabin crew upon boarding, but was told that first class was full. Disregarding her changed seating assignment, Baldwin chose to sit in one of the multiple empty seats toward the front of economy. At one point, Novack moved from her seat in first class to sit with Baldwin in economy only to be offered yet a different seat.

Baldwin alleges that she was ignored during the flight, with cabin crew engaging with Novack throughout the duration of the journey.

Speaking to the outlet, Baldwin said, “I’ve never felt so unimportant my entire life. This flight was the most blatantly racist thing that’s ever happened to me […] People didn’t seem to trust me and made giant, incorrect assumptions about the relationship between my friend and I.”

“I’m the one who bought the tickets; she was traveling with me – not the other way around. When my ticket was changed and Janet’s was not, I felt like I was being sent to the back of the bus,” she added.

Baldwin says that she has filed a formal letter of complain with the carrier, but that it has not yet been answered. AA has not offered further comment on the incident.

[Photo: Shutterstock]

Comments are Closed.
simpleflyer May 11, 2017

Well, it seems unlikely that the poster I quoted earlier was correct about marketing reasons for upgrades, going by a 2006 post by a former UA gate agent as to how operational UGs are processed. So that put my speculation out the window, as well. Here's the ex-GA post about upgrades. http://www.flyertalk.com/forum/united-mileage-plus-pre-merger/606224-operational-upgrades-gate-agent-s-perspective-4.html From that post: The ex GA, "DullesJason" stresses that Upgrades, including operational upgrades are valuable and are generally processed in order of status; who paid full fare in the given cabin; and fare category (working down from Y, B, and so on). In short, there are objective criteria that agents are urged to follow in processing upgrades. In response to this post several FTers asked the OP, the ex-GA, about the situation in which two people are traveling together, with one a higher status than the other one. Who would get an upgrade in the event that only one seat was needed in Y? The answer was, Generally, the opportunity would be given to the passenger with higher status. The situation with the AA passenger was slightly different: it wasn't an upgrade but the reverse of an upgrade into a downgrade back to Y after a second equipment change, if I understood the viewfromthewing blog description correctly. But presumably the same priority would be followed - ***as a general rule *** by the GA. "DullesJason", the ex-GA who was the OP of the above thread, stressed however that the pressure to ensure an on-time departure might see a GA abandoning the 'book' and processing seat allocations in whichever way would solve any problems as fast as possible. This seems the most likely explanation for how this 'reversal of upgrades' happened.

TravellingITGuy May 11, 2017

I doubt that this was racially motivated at all. It is unfortunate that it happened, but it did. However, look at other reasons than race. There are many reasons.

jahason May 11, 2017

The airlines don't help themselves by refusing to provide reasons, even at a later stage. Many Muslims have been asked to leave the aircraft. Was there a legitimate reason why in some cases? We will never know and so we end up making our own assumptions. This doesn't happen in other industries so much. The "we don't have to explain anything" attitude. I am an engineer and do work for refineries. Imagine after a contract is signed and they are expecting some output I turn round to them and say "Sorry but I will not be fulfilling your contract, the fee paid will be refunded to you".

fedup flyer May 11, 2017

When in doubt, it must be racism

Cymbo May 10, 2017

Funny how the facts get in the way of a blatantly dishonest claim!