Spanish authorities are investigating a confrontation on an Oct. 19 Ryanair flight from Barcelona to London, in which a male passenger shouted racist insults at a 77-year-old black woman seated in his row — with no apparent consequences at first.
The involvement of Spanish police less than a week later marks a sudden escalation in response to the man’s racist tirade after there was a public outcry over how Ryanair handled the incident.
As passengers were boarding the plane that day in Spain, an unidentified older white man began shouting at Delsie Gayle, saying he didn’t want to sit next to her, getting angry at her for speaking in a foreign language and calling her a “stupid ugly cow” and an “ugly black bastard,” among other insults.
The man continued berating Gayle even after Gayle’s daughter tried to get him to stop, telling him her mother is disabled. Eventually, a flight attendant asked if Gayle would like to change seats and she agreed. The plane took off and the man was allowed to stay on board.
The day after the flight, fellow passenger David Lawrence posted video he took of the confrontation to social media, where it has been viewed millions of times. Scores of people criticized Ryanair for not removing the man from the plane for his abusive behavior.
Days later, the story — and the potential consequences for the man in question — have spread internationally. On Tuesday, Barcelona Deputy Mayor Jaume Asens condemned Ryanair’s response as “unacceptable” and vowed that Barcelona City Hall officials would report it to Spanish prosecutors.
In subsequent tweets Tuesday, Asens asked for witnesses to come forward and said Barcelona is a welcoming and inclusive city that would not tolerate such an assault.
Spanish police involvement comes after Ryanair said Sunday it had reported the matter to Essex police in the United Kingdom.
Essex police confirmed Tuesday they had identified “both parties involved” and passed that information on to Spanish authorities, who would be leading the investigation.
“Our officers will continue to provide assistance where necessary throughout the course of this case,” Essex police stated.
Ryanair has said it cannot comment further “as this is now a police matter.”
It’s unclear what this sudden flurry of police activity could lead to in terms of consequences for the male passenger. The man was not immediately reported to police after the plane landed at London Stansted Airport and, as Lawrence told The Washington Post over the weekend, appeared to be allowed to go on his way without being questioned.
According to the newspaper El Pais, Spain’s Public Works Ministry will also investigate whether Ryanair should have disciplined the man as “a conflictive passenger” under current Spanish law.
For Gayle, the man’s rant has already done its damage. She and her daughter had been returning from a vacation to Costa Brava in Spain to mark the anniversary of the death of Gayle’s husband — a trip that was intended to cheer her mother up, Gayle’s daughter told ITV.
Instead, Gayle said she felt shocked and depressed and was having trouble sleeping after the incident.
“I feel very low,” the 77-year-old retiree told the British network. “He paid fare to go on holiday, and I paid mine. So why does he abuse me due to the color of my skin?”
Gayle said she thought Ryanair’s handling of the confrontation was unprofessional and that employees needed more training.
“He do it with me and he gets away, he’ll do it to somebody else,” she added.