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Kelowna, B.C. airline passengers sue low-cost carrier Swoop for defamation

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
WATCH: Despite an apology by the airline, an incident that resulted in a Kelowna couple being escorted off a plane by police is under review. It all started when the woman asked another passenger to switch seats so she could sit next to her husband. – Aug 16, 2022

Two Kelowna, B.C. Swoop customers have launched a lawsuit in B.C. Supreme Court against the low-cost carrier’s parent company, WestJet, and two airline employees.

Jodean Batiste and Andre Henry alleged in the lawsuit that they were defamed by the airline and its employees during and after an Aug. 10 incident where the B.C. couple say they were removed from the Swoop flight before takeoff.

Batiste previously spoke to Global Okanagan about the incident saying it left her feeling “naked and afraid” and she felt the couple’s race was the reason the situation escalated.

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The notice of civil claim, filed in Kelowna on Oct. 5, said Batiste and Henry were originally not seated together on their Swoop flight departing from Toronto. But a passenger seated next to Henry agreed to switch seats with Batiste.

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However, the lawsuit alleges a flight attendant, only identified as Hannah, became upset when she noticed the switch and said that switching seats before take-off wasn’t allowed due to the weight and balance issues of the aircraft.

The flight attendant told Batiste she would be charged for switching seats and Batiste indicated she would be willing to pay an additional fee, the lawsuit said.

A flight crew supervisor was then brought into the conversation and the flight attendant allegedly accused Batiste of giving her attitude, the civil claim said.

According to the lawsuit, a safety demonstration occurred, and the aircraft was prepared for take-off, but then the plane returned to its gate and Batiste was asked to leave the flight or police would be called.

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The lawsuit said the police were called and then Batiste and Henry were escorted off the aircraft and through the airport by officers.

The civil suit said all of this occurred despite the other passenger involved in the seat switch advising staff he had agreed to switch seats, other passengers telling the flight crew supervisor it was the flight attendant who was acting inappropriately towards Batiste, and neither the flight crew supervisor or the flight attendant speaking to Henry about the situation, and no one answering Batiste’s question about why she and Henry were being asked to leave the plane.

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The suit also says that while three passengers were involved in switching seats, it was only the two Black passengers who were escorted off the flight.

In the wake of the incident the lawsuit said Batiste and Henry are now “living a nightmare of an embarrassment,” and had to pay $2,000 for return tickets to Kelowna.

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The lawsuit alleges the flight attendant made false allegations against the couple during the flight by, among other things, claiming that they were impeding take-off of the plane and not following directions.

The document goes on to allege a Swoop pilot, only identified as Roberts in the lawsuit, made defaming and false statements about Batiste on social media between August 10 and 12.

The lawsuit said those social media statements included allegations Batiste was not telling her story truthfully and had “cursed out” various staff members.

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The civil suit alleges the company itself also made a false statement to the media in the wake of the incident that implied the passengers were a safety risk and had to be removed due to their behaviour.

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The Kelowna couple’s suit said the pair has suffered emotional and psychological harm as a result of the defamation.

A response to the civil claim has not yet been filed. Global News has reached out to WestJet for comment.

In August, Swoop told Global News it had launched an investigation into the matter and Batiste said the airline had apologized and offered to reimburse the couple for the replacement flight.

“Swoop has zero tolerance for racism and discrimination of any kind. We strive to make all travelers feel welcome and comfortable and regret that was not the experience some travelers 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,” Swoop said in a statement sent to Global News in August.

The lawsuit is seeking unspecified damages as well as reimbursement for lost wages and costs.

– with files from Global News’ Jasmine King

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