It's actually amazing how much racism I've experienced on @AmericanAir this morning for sitting with a friend. Like genuinely amazing.— Janet Novack (@janetnovack_) May 2, 2017
On May 2, Rane Baldwin, who is African-American, and her friend Janet Novack, who is white, were to fly first-class from Louisville, Ky., to Charlotte, N.C. At the terminal, however, Baldwin was handed a ticket that put her in a seat in the back of the plane.
@AmericanAir The whole reason that I was flying first class was because I was associated with her and her reservation. They were ignoring the card holder— Janet Novack (@janetnovack_) May 2, 2017
According to Baldwin, she asked the reason for the switch and was told that the first-class section was smaller than anticipated and there wasn't any room for her.
@AmericanAir Your workers were completely comfortable keeping me in front and sending her to the back of the plane. Literally to the BACK of the plane.— Janet Novack (@janetnovack_) May 2, 2017
"As [Baldwin] asked questions, she was ignored," Novack tweeted. "However, whenever I asked the same questions, I received thorough answers."
@AmericanAir When I refused my seat to go sit with her, there was no backlash towards me, just confusion as to why I'd leave first class to sit with her.— Janet Novack (@janetnovack_) May 2, 2017
"They literally made [Baldwin] wait at the back of the plane and refused to make eye contact with her or speak with her," said Novack. Eventually, the two women sat in a row of empty seats near the front of the plane, although not in first class. At this point, according to Baldwin and Novack, a flight attendant told Novack she could "spread out" if she wanted more space since they were sitting in a mostly-empty section.
"He did not say this to anyone else," Baldwin said in an interview with The Root. "I've never felt so unimportant my entire life. This flight was the most blatantly racist thing that's ever happened to me. It was baffling and hurtful that the crew seemed completely aware of what they were doing and just didn't care."
"The microaggressions that [American Airlines] workers projected are prejudiced, ignorant. They literally didn't believe I was flying with a black woman," added Novack.
American Airlines issued an apology for the incident, but denied discrimination as a factor. Instead, they chalked it up to "agent error." Baldwin and Novack had not purchased first-class tickets, they explained, and had instead been upgraded as compensation after their initial flight had been canceled. Novack's upgrade was processed into the system first, according to the airline — had Baldwin been processed first, it would have been the other way around.
"We have apologized to both passengers for the confusion, and explained how the issue occurred – which was an error on our part," a representative from the airline told The Independent. They claimed to have conducted an internal investigation that found no evidence of racism or discrimination.
This is the second allegation of racism levied against the world's largest airline in as many months. In April, Korean pastor Benny Shin claimed to have been prevented from boarding the plane while several white passengers in line behind him were permitted to embark.