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‘Because we are Black’: Kelowna, B.C. couple says racism contributed to their removal from flight

Click to play video: 'Kelowna couple escorted off flight by police after alleged racist incident' Kelowna couple escorted off flight by police after alleged racist incident
Despite an apology by the airline, an incident that resulted in a Kelowna couple being escorted off a plane by police is under review. As Jasmine King reports, the couple believes their race played a major factor – Aug 17, 2022

An incident that resulted in a Kelowna, B.C., couple being escorted off a plane by police earlier this month is under review by the airline.

Passengers Jhody Batiste and Andre Henry allege racism was a factor in their removal from a Swoop flight between Toronto and Kelowna.

Swoop has apologized to Batiste and Henry and offered to reimburse them for the flight, and has said it is conducting an internal investigation.

Batiste said the situation arose after she and Henry boarded the flight in Toronto on Aug. 10. The couple had seats apart from each other and Batiste asked another passenger if she could switch seats. The passenger had no problem with it but the flight attendant did tell Batiste she’d have to pay.

“I said, ‘OK, charge me then,'” Batiste explained. “Shortly after that, she came back again with another lady who I assume was a supervisor. Then she said, ‘There’s an issue,’ and I said, ‘There’s no issue.”

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Batiste said the flight attendants then said the move disrupted the weight of the plane. According to Batiste, they continually came back, saying there were other problems.

Read more: B.C. man berates women for not speaking English

According to Batiste, the flight attendant then said: “It’s not even about switching seats anymore, it’s about your attitude.”

The couple said they were then told they would be kicked off the flight.

“Then I said, ‘What did I do?’ And she said, ‘If you don’t leave, we’re going to be phoning the authorities.’ And I said, ‘OK then, phone the authorities.”

Batiste said she believed that the police would help mediate the situation. Once they were called, she began live streaming the incident on Instagram. She was brought to the front of the plane by police and began to ask the flight attendants and pilot what she did wrong.

“You guys kick us off because we are Black,” Henry said during the livestream.

Read more: Cancelled flights strand B.C. woman in Toronto for 5 days (July 5, 2022)

Batiste said she believes the couple’s race was the reason the situation escalated.

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In a statement to Global News, Swoop said it has launched an investigation into the matter.

“Swoop has zero tolerance for racism and discrimination of any kind. We strive to make all travellers feel welcome and comfortable and regret that was not the experience some travellers had on this flight. We are reviewing the incident internally and have been in contact with Ms. Batiste directly to follow up on her concerns,” read the statement.

Batiste said the airline has since apologized and offered to reimburse the roughly $2,000 the couple paid for a return flight on WestJet.

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Read more: 1 in 4 Canadian border officers witnessed colleagues discriminate: CBSA report

Batiste said she continues to replay the moment over and over in her head since it happened, feeling embarrassed and ashamed. One of the most difficult parts was having to explain to her son why she was escorted off the flight by police.

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“It was very heartbreaking. I have to keep explaining to him that I didn’t do anything wrong. That’s just how people are,” Batiste said.

She has spoken to a counsellor since the flight and describes the incident as making her feel “naked and afraid.”

“Even though we might feel small and feel like a minority due to the colour of our skin, I want people to know that they have a voice,” Batiste said.

Batiste said she hopes that Swoop learns from the incident.

“There’s going to be lots of other people that they’re going to come across from all walks of life and I think they need proper training and conflict resolution.”

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