‘Pure incompetence’: Passenger calls out Air Canada over handling of racist incident

Air Canada has confirmed the incident occurred and said it is reviewing what happened. Darryl Dyck/CP

An Air Canada passenger who encountered a racist incident is calling out the airline, saying it failed to handle the situation properly.

Sonamjeet Narwan, a 28-year-old U.K. resident, was in line at the check-in counter at the Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport in Arlington, Va., on Tuesday when the incident occurred.

A woman had cut in line, and Narwan asked her to move back.

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“I said, ‘If you wouldn’t mind, take your place in the queue. It’s not really fair if you’re skipping it when you’ve got people behind you,'” Narwan told Global News.

“She essentially called me a ‘9/11 bloodsucker,'” Narwan said of the woman’s response. “When I asked her what she actually meant, if she was really calling me a ‘9/11 bloodsucker,’ she said, ‘Yep.'”

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Narwan said several Air Canada employees were around and noticed the incident. She added that she also directly complained to some but they did not seem sympathetic.

“For me to have flagged not one but numerous Air Canada members of staff that I was at the end of racist remarks and for them to hear what I had to say but then not act upon that, they basically made me feel like I was pestering them,” she explained.

Narwan said she asked Air Canada not to allow the passenger on the same flight as her, but airline employees did not agree.

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In a statement to Global News, Air Canada confirmed that the incident took place and said the airline is reviewing it.

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“On board, our crew, who had been notified of an incident at the airport, could see the customer was upset,” the statement explained. “They upgraded her to Business Class and checked on her regularly during the flight.”

Narwan also reported the incident to police while at the airport, but the police said the decision was up to Air Canada.

“[The police officer] said that unless it was physical in nature or there was a threat of physical assault then she could not do anything,” Narwan said.

Air Canada added in an email to Global News that because the police took no action, “the matter appeared resolved.” The airline said it can’t provide additional information on their handling of the case due to privacy reasons.

She added that she believes the airline showed “pure incompetence” in managing the situation for several reasons.

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She explained that Air Canada moved her up nine seats during the Washington to Toronto flight so that she would not have to sit near the woman.

“I was moved forward so the air hostess could ask me what had happened, and she was the first person that asked me how I was and what had happened,” she said.

Narwan noted that the upgrade seemed like a “token gesture” that Air Canada is now boasting — and it’s not the real action that she wanted.

“The only reassurance I wanted that day was that that passenger was not going to be allowed to board that flight because she needed to experience the ramifications of being racist toward another passenger,” she said.

“Being moved a few seats forward for a 45- to 50-minute flight in no way reassured me.”

After Narwan’s sister tweeted about the incident to Air Canada on Tuesday, the airline took several hours to reply. Air Canada said the delay was due to a high volume of messages.

She noted that Air Canada responded to a journalist asking about the incident before personally contacting her.

“What that says is they’re more concerned with PR and how the public is perceiving this,” Narwan said.

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She noted that the representative who called her Tuesday night apologized for the incident.

While Narwan said she wishes the incident had been properly dealt with, she’s now hoping that speaking out will help others.

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“There are probably many people who experience similar things on a daily basis and are told to just kind of put up and shut up,” she said.

Currently, Air Canada’s International Tariff policy notes that passengers are prohibited from being “abusive, offensive, threatening, intimidating, violent or otherwise disorderly.”

The policy allows employees to “take action” to ensure the physical comfort or safety of other passengers or other employees.

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Air Canada has not responded to questions from Global News about whether it has a policy to deal specifically with racist incidents.

The comments have been turned off on this article at the request of Sonamjeet Narwan to prevent hateful messages.

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