Woman Required to Cover Up on American Airlines Flight Says Race Was a Factor
Neil Vigdor, New York Times, July 10, 2019
A Texas doctor says her race was a factor when she was briefly removed from a recent American Airlines flight and required to cover herself with a blanket before being allowed back on the plane.
Dr. Tisha Rowe, who identifies as African-American and Caribbean-American, posted a widely shared tweet about the episode, including a selfie of the romper she was wearing on the June 30 flight from Jamaica to Miami.
“Had they seen that same issue in a woman who was not a woman of color, they would not have felt empowered to take me off the plane,” Dr. Rowe said. “In pop culture, especially black women with a body like mine, they’re often portrayed as video vixens. So I’ve had to deal with those stereotypes my whole life.”
American Airlines apologized and agreed to issue a refund to Dr. Rowe, according to Shannon Gilson, a spokeswoman.
“We were concerned about Dr. Rowe’s comments, and reached out to her and our team at the Kingston airport to gather more information about what occurred,” Ms. Gilson said. “We apologize to Dr. Rowe and her son for their experience, and have fully refunded their travel. We are proud to serve customers of all backgrounds.”
The airline said Tuesday it was planning to hire a chief inclusion and diversity officer, and establish an office for “diversity, equity and inclusion.”
“Based on our engagement with the company, they have begun to make progress,” Derrick Johnson, president and chief executive of the N.A.A.C.P., said Tuesday of the airline’s past efforts.
Mr. Johnson said the N.A.A.C.P. wanted to get all the facts about what happened to Dr. Rowe.
“We are going to monitor to see the airline’s response,” Mr. Johnson said.
Dr. Rowe said she was walking to her seat when a male flight attendant, whom she described as black, asked her to return to the front of the plane. Another flight attendant, who was also black, then spoke to her about her appearance while she stood on the jet bridge, Dr. Rowe said.
“She poses the question to me, ‘Do you have a jacket?’” Dr. Rowe said. “I said, ‘No, I do not.’ I’ve been given no explanation as to why I was taken off the plane. So finally she says, ‘You’re not boarding the plane dressed like that.’ Then they started to give me a lecture about how when I got on the plane, I better not make a scene or be loud.”
The airline’s conditions of carriage, which are posted on its website, make a brief reference to a dress code: “Dress appropriately; bare feet or offensive clothing aren’t allowed.”
“We are policed for being black,” Dr. Rowe posted on Facebook during the flight. “I’ve seen white women with much shorter shorts board a plane without a blink of an eye. I guess if it’s a ‘nice ass’ vs. a Serena Booty it’s O.K.”
Dr. Rowe’s lawyer, Geoffrey Berg, said she was considering litigation against American Airlines.
“They wanted credit for the apology and said, ‘This is not how we want our airline portrayed,’ which tells me they are prioritizing their image above their actions,” Mr. Berg said.