There’s an apocryphal story that’s made rounds on the internet since at least the late 1990s about a racist passenger complaining about being seated next to someone they deemed undesirable and demanding a flight attendant do something about it.
A 50-something year old white woman arrived at her seat on a crowded flight and immediately didn’t want the seat. The seat was next to a black man. Disgusted, the woman immediately summoned the flight attendant and demanded a new seat.
The woman said, “I cannot sit here next to this black man.”
The fight attendant said, “Let me see if I can find another seat.”
After checking, the flight attendant returned and stated “Ma’am, there are no more seats in economy, but I will check with the captain and see if there is something in first class.”
About 10 minutes went by and the flight attendant returned and stated “The captain has confirmed that there are no more seats in economy, but there is one in first class. It is our company policy to never move a person from economy to first class, but being that it would be some sort of scandal to force a person to sit next to an UNPLEASANT person, the captain agreed to make the switch to first class.”
Before the woman could say anything, the attendant gestured to the black man and said, “Therefore sir, if you would so kindly retrieve your personal items, we would like to move you to the comfort of first class as the captain doesn’t want you to sit next to an unpleasant person.”
This story was even turned into a public service advertisement in Portugal.
And that’s how it’s done. We’re all forced together inside a metal tube regardless of background. And when you’re seated next to someone you find unpleasant it’s not the airline’s fault nor should it be the airline that ought to compensate. Indeed, it’s the unpleasant person who ought to provide compensation, whether the behavior is racism, clipping toenails inflight or making inappropriate advances.
Still when the airline is in a position to it’s a great way to drop the mic. And it’s a lesson, apparently, that Spirit Airlines needs to learn as a woman on Spirit flight NK446 from Las Vegas to Chicago on June 25 was allowed to be bullied out of her seat.
[B]oard the Chicago flight and the open seat they gave me was next to a Russian woman, who refused to let me sit by her. Like refuses it to the point that she is arguing with the flight attendant about how she is not going to let me sit by her.
Luckily there were other (white) people on the plane who chose to switch seats with me so I wouldn’t have to sit by her which she happily allowed….So appreciative of the other passengers who just rallied around me , held my hand and really prayed with me.
This 4 hour flight is about to feel like a lifetime. I’m am so embarrassed and heartbroken😢
Flight attendants reportedly thanked this woman “multiple times for being a team player” and moving away from the passenger who didn’t want to sit next to a black woman — when they should have given that passenger a choice to either stop harassing her assigned seat mate or get off the aircraft.
According to Spirit Airlines they have a “zero tolerance for discrimination of any kind on our flights” and they “pride [themselves] on providing an inclusive and safe environment for our guests” although it seems their crew failed to do so on this occasion.
I really wish this story were different and there had been a ‘Big Front Seat’ open for the woman who was asked to move. I like to think about these situations in advance to have a sense of how I might react as a bystander. Certainly I’d like to think I’d say something to the flight attendant at least.