A Southwest Airlines Boeing 737-700 (N235WN) takes to the skies above San Jose International Airport, San Jose, California, United States. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
An incident happened on Southwest Airlines Flight 479 from Chicago to New York’s LaGuardia Airport last night. I was on that flight.
A man came very close to being placed on a different flight because of an argument with a couple he claimed refused to allow him sit down next to them because he was a minority.
I was in the front seat on the starboard side of the airplane, assisting my mother on our flight to New York. Across the aisle, and one row back, a woman was saving a seat. The flight attendant, a young woman who seemed new to the job, asked her to refrain from saving the seat because the flight was going to be full. The woman replied that she was saving it for a friend. To this the flight attendant said nothing and moved on. The next thing anyone knew a man was standing and waiting to sit in that saved seat.
As he went to sit down an argument erupted. The man waiting to be seated was a black man. Normally, I don’t punctuate my stories with the colors of the people in them. I hear people do that, and at the end of their story I’m thinking to myself, Why did I need to know the color of the person in your story since it had nothing to do with the details? I think it is a subtle form of racism. At any rate, in this case, the detail matters because the man openly accused them of refusing to allow him to sit down because they were being racist.
The conversation began to be very heated between the man and the woman’s husband. Then the pilot came out and began to correct the man. The man asked the pilot, “Why are you singling me out when they are the ones refusing to let me sit down?” The pilot replied, “Your voice is the only one I hear shouting.” The man and the pilot exchanged words and the pilot eventually told him to put his bag away and be quiet or he would have to go on another flight. For a few moments I was concerned that perhaps a fight would break out. The woman’s husband, frequently appealing to the fact that he had a small child within hearing distance, began to gain forcefulness once the pilot stepped in and was clearly reprimanding the man with the complaint. He even told him to shut his mouth. To be fair, the man who was making the complaint did elevate the conversation by making a thinly veiled threat of violence.
In the moment, my instincts were that the pilot should have put him off the flight. I’m not really willing to allow for violent threats to pass. But, hindsight being 20/20 as they say, there is another point to be made. I don’t know whether anything racist was said or if they even told him he couldn’t sit there. But the whole event could have been avoided if the flight attendant had enforced the open seating policy. The man in this question, who happened to be a minority, took the time to check-in the day before and gained for himself a certain boarding number. When he walked in the door he should have been able to sit wherever he wanted to sit. He was denied that right. The incident on Flight 479 from Chicago to New York’s LaGuardia Airport could have been avoided if the flight attendant had enforced the open seating policy.
As a side note: the whole incident was finally quelled when the guy sitting next to me, in an effort to separate the two men, was able to persuade the man with the complaint to switch seats with him. So, I sat next to the guy who was almost kicked off the flight. He was a nice enough fellow. I offered him air and he was very friendly. I do have one complaint though: He was an armrest violator. That’s another story though.