Qantas Airways is backing its flight attendant — verbally and possibly legally — after musician will.i.am called her racist in tweets over the weekend.
“We rejected claims of racism and have since asked will.i.am for a retraction of that claim,” the Australian airline said in a statement. “We fully support our crew and the great work they do ensuring safety of all those on board. Absent a retraction, and if the crew member wanted to take the matter further, we’d certainly be willing to provide legal support for them to do this.”
Will.i.am tweeted on Friday (Saturday in Australia) that during a trip from Brisbane to Sydney, a flight attendant behaved aggressively toward him after he didn’t hear a public address because he was wearing noise-canceling headphones. He said he “quickly and politely” put his laptop away when asked, but the flight attendant — whose name he included — escalated the situation by calling the police.
“I was intimidated by 5 police officers when I landed...for what? I put away my laptop when she asked...why would she feel threatened by me to call the police? What did I do wrong? I wasn’t out of hand.. I was polite & did what she asked... now you’re asking me to take abuse?” he tweeted.
After initially tweeting that he didn’t “want to believe she racist,” will.i.am posted tweets accusing the crew member of being exactly that. His use of her name drew a swift rebuke on Twitter. He also tweeted at the airline with the hashtag #racistflightattendant.
Another Twitter user who claimed to be on the same flight appeared to corroborate will.i.am’s account, as the singer noted in his defense.
I was on the same flight and couldn’t believe the appalling behaviour of the flight attendant. My apologies on behalf of Australia.— Kate Selway (@kate_selway) November 16, 2019
Qantas responded to the incident Saturday with a statement to The Washington Post, saying: “There was a misunderstanding on board, which seems to have been exacerbated by will.i.am wearing noise cancelling headphones and not being able to hear instructions from crew.
“We completely reject the suggestion this had anything to do with race.”
Some observers accused will.i.am of abusing his platform of more than 12 million Twitter followers to direct online hate toward a person doing her job.
In response, the Grammy winner claimed he didn’t intend for anyone to target the flight attendant and said he was speaking for others by calling out wrongdoing. He included an image of a threatening message sent to the woman and asked followers not to send verbal abuse her way.
“I am posting so that this doesn’t happen again...it shouldn’t happen to a Aboriginal, Latino, African, LGBTQ White, Red or anyone... everyone deserves to be treated with respect...,” will.i.am tweeted.