Mesher’s moment came onboard a Ryanair flight from Barcelona to London. He was trying to get to his window seat and Delsie Gayle, a 77-year-old woman who was seated next to him, did not move fast enough to get out of his way, Mesher said in the interview. Mesher let loose a string of threats and insults, telling Gayle not to speak to him in another language and calling the septuagenarian a “stupid ugly cow” and “an ugly black bastard.”
Another passenger, David Lawrence, recorded the incident and shared it on social media, sparking calls that Mesher be prosecuted and criticizing the discount airline for not kicking him off the plane entirely. He rode to London in a row by himself after Gayle switched seats.
Friday’s interview was an attempt for Mesher to explain his side after spending a week enmeshed in infamy.
“I probably lost my temper a bit and ordered her to get up,” he said on the show, adding that he “absolutely” regrets his behavior. “I’m not a racist person by any means, and it’s just a fit of temper at the time, I think,” he said.
When asked what he would say to Gayle, Mesher said: “I apologize for all the distress you’ve had there and since.”
Reached by British media, Gayle said she did not accept Mesher’s apology. “I don’t think so,” she told the Independent. “You must forget and forgive, but it’s going to take a long time for me to get over what he has done to me.”
Gayle said she was shocked and depressed about the incident and has been having trouble sleeping. “I feel very low,” the retiree told ITV. “He paid fare to go on holiday, and I paid mine. So why does he abuse me due to the color of my skin?”
Authorities in two countries are also looking into the incident, after 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 a verbal assault.
Ryanair reported the matter to Essex police in the United Kingdom, prompting the involvement of the Spanish police.
But many in the British public seemed unwilling to let Ryanair off the hook for not kicking Mesher off the plane. A petition aimed at Ryanair to “apologise & compensate Delsie Gayle for failing to respond to racist abuse on your flight” had been signed by more than 300,000 people by Friday. The airline’s lack of action, the petition said, “continues to be seen as an endorsement of the racist incident.”
“In 1955 Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a bus to a white man leading to the Montgomery bus boycott,” the petition said. “[Sixty-three] years later Ryanair standby whilst white people demand no black person sits next to them. This is disgraceful.”