The so-called friendly skies are more unfriendly than ever. If you are Black, you can be kicked off a flight for having a non-contagious disease or no one may believe you are a doctor when someone is in need of medical assistance. Now, a Nigerian woman and her children were kicked off a plane for a “pungent” smell — and it was a white man who complained.
On March 4, 2016, a woman, identified in court documents as Queen Obioma, boarded a United Airlines flight at Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston, Texas. The Houston Chronicle reports, “Obioma arrived at her row in business class to find a white passenger sitting in her assigned seat. He refused to relocate, according to the lawsuit. The flight staff attempted to resolve the conflict, but the man persisted and Obioma agreed to take his seat nearby.”
The white man got even more aggressive, with the Chronicle reporting, “Prior to takeoff, she returned from visiting the restroom and the same male passenger tried to block her access to the seat for several minutes, according to the charges. She says a United staffer named in documents as Russel H. ordered her to step off the plane, where she was told by another United agent that the pilot had asked her to exit the plane based on a complaint from the white man sitting near her.”
Obioma, who is a member of United’s Star Alliance frequent-flier group, claims she was told the business class passenger did not want to fly with her because she was “pungent.” She was not allowed to get back on the plane, even though her children were still on board. Her children were removed and court documents viewed by ABC say, “Ms. Obioma watched her minor children marched out of the aircraft like criminals, confused and perplexed and she slumped.”
Obioma is suing United Airlines for discriminating against her because she is Black, African and Nigerian. She is seeking punitive damages and attorney’s fees. A spokesperson for United Airlines told the New York Post, “United does not tolerate discrimination of any kind and will investigate this matter.”
Actually, maybe United does tolerate discrimination. Black pilots accused United Airlines of racism in 2016. Democratic Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee accused the airline of racism in December of 2017. Last year, a Chinese man was dragged off a flight and he specifically said that wouldn’t have happened to him if he wasn’t Chinese.
Sounds like United Airlines needs some cultural sensitivity training to make their skies friendly.