Reverend William Barber, president of the North Carolina NAACP, is suing American Airlines over an incident of alleged racial discrimination. According to court documents, Rev. Barber contends that he purchased two seats for a flight from Reagan National Airport to Raleigh-Durham International Airport in April 2016. While on the plane, Rev. Barber asked a flight attendant if she could ask two White passengers seated behind him to quiet down. According to the lawsuit, the passengers instigated a racially charged tirade, claiming Rev. Barber told the flight attendant he had a problem with “those people,” which caused Barber to stand and face the White passenger. According to Rev. Barber, the man insulted him for purchasing two seats, implying it was because of his size. Rev. Barber suffers from arthritis and purchased the extra seat to rest his leg. Rev. Barber contends that the incident calmed and two police officers boarded the plane and had him removed at the airline’s request. The White passengers were allowed to continue to their destination. When Barber rebooked his flight the next day, a Black American Airlines ticket agent told him that situations like his occur frequently on the airline and he expressed frustration with the company. When the incident was first reported in April, an American Airlines spokesperson stated that a passenger who didn’t follow crew instructions and grabbed a flight attendant was removed from a flight. The spokesperson did not identify Rev. Barber as the person removed from the flight.
Barber contends in his lawsuit that “this differential treatment was based on race, as other passengers noted and stated to American Airlines employees.” The suit also states that “Reverend Barber was calm, complied with all directives from the flight crew, and did nothing that remotely warranted being ejected from the airplane.” The lawsuit is asking for unspecified monetary damages and a change in policy at American Airlines. The airline has refused to comment, citing ongoing litigation.