Airlines seem to have trouble staying out of the news in a negative way, from engine failures to pets dying. This time, United Airlines is being taken to court after a Nigerian woman alleges that she was racially discriminated after a fellow passenger complained she had a “pungent” odor, resulting in the woman being removed from her flight.
Queen Obioma filed a federal discrimination suit on Friday, stating that she and her children were wrongfully removed from a flight headed to San Francisco on March 4, 2016.
According to the Houston Chronicle, the family was on the second leg of a three-flight trip from Lagos, Nigeria, to Ontario, Canada, where her kids attend school. Obioma boarded the plane and found a white male passenger sitting in her assigned business class seat. The man refused to move to his own assigned seat, and when a flight attendant failed to resolve the conflict, Obioma agreed to take his spot.
Court documents state that Obioma noted that the passenger stood up and go to the pilot’s cabin. Obioma went to the restroom, and when she returned, the same male was standing in the aisle, blocking her access to her seat. Obioma said, “Excuse me” three times and attempted to make her way to her seat.
When Obioma finally squeezed her way to her seat, United Airlines staff, identified as Russel H. by the court documents, ordered Obioma out of the aircraft where another United agent informed her that the pilot requested she exit as the man causing trouble complained of her “pungent” smell. He also stated that he did not feel comfortable flying with her.
Obioma had her children removed from the flight, and the family waited for five hours before they could get on another flight. Due to the delay, Obioma and her kids missed previously scheduled appointments and extended her stay, incurring additional expenses. Obioma says that the incident was not about her smell but her skin. She says the airline discriminated against her because she is black, African and Nigerian.
“We have not yet been served with this suit and due to the pending litigation involved in this matter, we’re unable to provide further comment,” a spokesman for the airline said in an emailed statement.
Obioma is seeking punitive damages and attorney fees.
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