Tamika Mallory, a prominent activist who co-chaired the Women’s March on Washington, accused an American Airlines pilot of racial discrimination after he kicked her off a flight Sunday following a disagreement with a gate agent over a seat assignment.
In a tearful Facebook Live broadcast late Sunday, the New York resident said she had done nothing to warrant her removal and vowed to fight the airline. American Airlines has said it tried to de-escalate the situation and was investigating the incident.
Mallory and the airline agreed that it began with a seat-change mix-up.
While checking in for her flight from Miami to New York, Mallory said she used a kiosk to switch from a middle seat to an aisle seat. As she was boarding, however, a female gate agent told her the aisle seat was no longer available and printed her a new ticket with her original, middle seat.
As Mallory waited for an explanation, she said the gate agent brushed off her concerns and asked whether she had paid for the seat upgrade. Mallory told the agent that she was a platinum member of American’s frequent-flier program and that the kiosk had not asked for payment.
“She laughs and says to me, ‘Well, somebody else probably paid for it and that’s why you got booted,’ ” Mallory said in her broadcast. She said their conversation became increasingly terse, especially after she told the gate agent she should apologize. “The issue is not even about the seat. The issue is about the way in which you are speaking to me.”
Toward the end of their exchange, the male pilot of the plane came out — in time for him to hear Mallory tell the gate agent she felt “disrespected” and planned on filing a complaint online. He didn’t say anything then but stopped Mallory later as she was boarding the plane, she said.
The gate agent was a black woman and the pilot a white man, Mallory noted in her broadcast.
“The first words that came out of the pilot’s mouth … and this is the part that it just really hurts me … was, ‘Respect goes both ways,’ ” Mallory said. “And he said, ‘She told you she had nothing to do with your ticket and you had issue with that. What’s your problem?’ ”
Mallory said she was taken aback and told the pilot he had walked out only at the end of the conversation. The pilot, in turn, said the gate agent had already told him what had happened and he didn’t need to hear what she had to say, according to Mallory.
“I’m definitely going to file a complaint,” Mallory said she told him.
“You’re going to get yourself a one-way ticket off of this plane,” she said he responded. The pilot then asked Mallory whether she was going to “behave” on the flight or “be a problem,” she said.
Mallory said she assuaged the pilot — “Yes, no problems. I’m good; everything’s fine” — and boarded the plane because she wanted to get home.
“You are almost silenced as a customer on airlines. So I didn’t say anything,” she said. “I sat down in my middle seat. I was quiet. I didn’t say a word. I did not say one word to anybody. Not one … The next thing I know, my name was called twice, full name, from the loudspeaker.”
Mallory said when she went to the front of the plane, the pilot pointed at her and said: “Yeah, her. Off.”
In her Facebook Live broadcast, Mallory denied raising her voice earlier in the boarding process — but freely admitted that she began cursing at the pilot at this point.
“You godd— right I did. They targeted me. I was already being thrown off the plane. There was nothing else to discuss at that point. Nothing,” Mallory said. “There was no reason at that point for me to be kind and continue to bow to master. No reason. I was disrespected. I was targeted.”
When asked whether the removal was justified, an American Airlines spokesman told The Washington Post that the airline was continuing “to review the situation with our team members.”
“We take these allegations seriously, and we have spoken to all involved, including Ms. Mallory,” airline spokesman Ross Feinstein said. “Due to an error with a seat change request, Ms. Mallory was informed her requested seat was not available and she was given her original, pre-reserved seat. Our team members apologized for the error and attempted to de-escalate the situation. Ms. Mallory was rebooked on the next flight to New York’s LaGuardia airport.”
Mallory said the pilot called police and about half a dozen officers came to escort her off the plane. A traveling companion who had boarded the plane earlier — who had also come to the front of the plane when Mallory was called up — was also asked to leave, she said.
“[The pilot said,] ‘Remove him, too,’ ” Mallory said of her travel companion. “He didn’t do anything. Nobody has told me why this happened to me today.”
Shortly after the incident, Mallory took to Twitter to air her grievances against the airline. Though a supervisor “tried her best to fix the situation” by giving Mallory and her travel companion $15 dining vouchers, she said she remained angry about the way she was treated by the gate agent and the pilot.
“Only reason this pilot got involved was to assert his white male power over who he thought was just some uppity black girl,” Mallory tweeted. “That’s it.”
Mallory did not immediately respond to requests for comment Monday morning. The co-president of the Women’s March board, Mallory has also been organizing the Women’s Convention in Detroit that will convene at the end of the month. Her bio describes her as an advocate for “civil rights issues, equal rights for women, health care, gun violence, and police misconduct.”
Mallory told the New York Daily News that the incident caused her to miss the wedding of the Rev. Al Sharpton’s daughter Sunday.
“I’m crying because I’m angry and I’m a fighter and I will not lay down,” Mallory said in her Facebook broadcast. “You better believe, they will not get away with throwing me off that plane today. Because I didn’t do a godd— thing to deserve it. Nothing.”