BREAKING NEWS Finally Feeling Like Fall Full Story

Passengers alleging racial discrimination sue American Airlines over Black man's removal from flight

A Southwest Airlines flight attendant had an emotional conversation about race with a passenger who later revealed he was the CEO of American Airlines.

Posted: Jun 23, 2020 9:31 AM
Updated: Jun 23, 2020 9:31 AM

American Airlines is being sued by five passengers who allege they were improperly removed from a flight because of racial discrimination by the airline.

American says it is investigating the incident but at this point it believes the allegations in the federal lawsuit are inaccurate.

The suit comes at a difficult time for airlines, which are trying to convince passengers that it is safe to fly again despite the pandemic, even if maintaining six feet of distance from other passengers is difficult on flights unless they are mostly empty. It also comes at a time when national protests about systemic racism are happening around the country.

The suit charges that one of the passengers, Elgin Banks, who is Black, asked if he could change seats on a Los Angeles to Phoenix flight on the evening of May 31. He said he wanted to provide more space between him and other passengers.

Banks said he was told by a flight attendant he would have to wait until after boarding had been completed before he could change seats. According to the suit, he saw White passengers changing seats once the boarding process was completed. Then, he asked a flight attendant if he could take a seat closer to the front of the plane. The suit alleges a flight attendant told him to sit down and lower his voice. Two of the other plaintiffs said he did not raise his voice, according to their affidavits. The flight attendant then called security to have him removed from the plane.

A statement from American says that Banks had asked to move into first class, and that he was not eligible for an upgrade. Banks denies asking for a first class seat in the lawsuit.

The other four passengers who brought the suit — three of whom the suit identifies as African American women and one as a White woman — objected to his removal, and they were ordered off the plane as well, according to the suit.

The incident caused American to cancel the flight altogether. The airline said passengers were given refunds or offered tickets on the flight the next day.

"The disruption on board required deplaning passengers," American said in its statement. "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. All affected customers were provided with a hotel voucher unless they lived locally, as is our policy."

The suit says Banks never asked for a first class seat and referred to the allegation by the flight attendant that he had as a "perjurious lie."

The suit also alleges that after the five plaintiffs were removed from the plane, a security employee asked one of the Black plaintiffs, Cynthia Vassor, "Why would you want to fly with an airline that doesn't want you on their plane?"

The suit also alleges that the five plaintiffs in the suit were told by the airline they were banned from future travel on the airline, and that unlike other passengers the Black plaintiffs were not offered hotel vouchers. According to the affidavit of Natalie Epstein, the White plaintiff in the case, only she and one other White passenger who had objected to Banks' removal received hotel vouchers. American denies any of them were banned, and says all, including Banks, were offered hotel vouchers.

The incident occurred just days before CEO Doug Parker wrote to airline employees about the need to have White Americans do a better job of listening to the concerns of Black Americans.

He wrote an essay about a flight he had taken on another airline -- Southwest -- and about a conversation he had with an African American flight attendant on the flight.

The two had an emotional discussion during the flight, and the story of their encounter got a lot of news coverage.

"These are trying times," Parker wrote to American employees after his flight. "Our people are hurting. I'm not certain what all of the answers are, but I know it involves talking to each other. And listening. And it takes courage and leadership to start the conversation and to stand up for what is right. JacqueRae taught me all that. Please get out and talk to your teams today. Bring people together, not apart. We need caring leadership now more than ever."

Epstein, the White plaintiff in the case, said she saw the news reports about Parker's statements on race.

"The hypocrisy hurts," she said in her affidavit. "He could start by making things right for Elgin Banks."

American Airlines has had a spotty record on race relations in recent years.

In 2017, the NAACP went so far as to issue a travel advisory to Black airline passengers, saying that "booking and boarding flights on American Airlines could subject them [to] disrespectful, discriminatory or unsafe conditions."

The airline responded by saying it would take steps to address those concerns, including having all employees take "annual implicit bias training."

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 497790

Reported Deaths: 9917
CountyCasesDeaths
Harrison34102530
DeSoto31839398
Hinds31837622
Jackson24314377
Rankin21881388
Lee15427234
Madison14525279
Jones13772241
Forrest13412250
Lauderdale11937314
Lowndes10934185
Lamar10470135
Pearl River9431237
Lafayette8454138
Hancock7697126
Washington7365156
Oktibbeha7111129
Monroe6727174
Warren6642176
Pontotoc6609101
Neshoba6606205
Panola6460131
Marshall6386132
Bolivar6266145
Union596094
Pike5784152
Alcorn5633101
Lincoln5417134
George491879
Scott470998
Tippah465381
Prentiss464181
Leflore4627143
Itawamba4596104
Adams4570119
Tate4546109
Copiah445191
Simpson4421116
Wayne438572
Yazoo438586
Covington427394
Marion4216107
Sunflower4215104
Coahoma4115104
Leake407787
Newton380879
Grenada3692108
Stone358464
Tishomingo356391
Attala330289
Jasper328265
Winston313191
Clay306375
Chickasaw296767
Clarke290694
Calhoun277945
Holmes266987
Smith262550
Yalobusha232647
Tallahatchie225251
Walthall217763
Greene215548
Lawrence211140
Perry204755
Amite203954
Webster201645
Noxubee185340
Montgomery179056
Jefferson Davis170642
Carroll167438
Tunica158639
Benton147438
Kemper141241
Choctaw133026
Claiborne131237
Humphreys129038
Franklin119128
Quitman106227
Wilkinson104539
Jefferson94234
Sharkey64020
Issaquena1937
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 812694

Reported Deaths: 15142
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson1139601904
Mobile721751321
Madison51923685
Shelby37240339
Baldwin37044538
Tuscaloosa34902599
Montgomery33919719
Lee23122240
Calhoun22125469
Morgan20620370
Etowah19739496
Marshall18238298
Houston17288405
St. Clair15897337
Cullman15297290
Limestone15178198
Elmore15038284
Lauderdale14125294
Talladega13692271
DeKalb12554258
Walker11069364
Blount10081174
Autauga9883146
Jackson9776177
Coffee9176188
Dale8856180
Colbert8781200
Tallapoosa7032195
Escambia6725127
Covington6672179
Chilton6580160
Russell624758
Franklin5927105
Chambers5558142
Marion4952126
Dallas4854199
Clarke472681
Pike4716105
Geneva4558126
Winston4461101
Lawrence4252117
Bibb421686
Barbour355374
Marengo333989
Monroe329962
Randolph324763
Butler323994
Pickens313581
Henry310565
Hale308787
Cherokee299457
Fayette290579
Washington250851
Cleburne245958
Crenshaw243375
Clay239767
Macon230662
Lamar215446
Conecuh185351
Coosa177738
Lowndes173161
Wilcox167038
Bullock151744
Perry138040
Sumter131138
Greene125544
Choctaw86627
Out of AL00
Unassigned00
Tupelo
Clear
65° wxIcon
Hi: 69° Lo: 53°
Feels Like: 65°
Columbus
Clear
65° wxIcon
Hi: 69° Lo: 55°
Feels Like: 65°
Oxford
Clear
61° wxIcon
Hi: 67° Lo: 49°
Feels Like: 61°
Starkville
Clear
65° wxIcon
Hi: 69° Lo: 53°
Feels Like: 65°
A cold front passing through our area overnight will bring into our area some of the coolest temperatures of the season so far. We will see most of the highs this weekend only in the upper 60s to lower 70s. While overnight lows will drop off down into the 40s Saturday night.
WTVA Radar
WTVA Temperatures
WTVA Severe Weather