African American Woman Made To Feel She Didn’t Belong In First Class, Kicked Off Over Bubble Guppies

A Florida-based attorney flying American Airlines says her two year old was watching Bubble Guppies quietly, but without headphones. The aircraft was taxiing out, turned around and her family was kicked off the aircraft. She says she was told several times she ‘was in first class’ and felt, as a black woman, that she was being told she didn’t belong.

Modoline Altenor was traveling with her five year old son and two year old daughter, and with her mother and her grandmother from Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic back home to Miami over the weekend.

She says that a flight attendant told her that her daughter’s “DVD [volume] needs to be lowered” and she says she reduced the volume. Then another crewmember follows up and tells her she’s “been told” and that she’s “in first class [and] can’t disrupt other passengers.” Altenor says she had her daughter turn off the volume completely “down to zero.”

However a crewmember speaks to the captain to have the family removed from the aircraft. The plane returns to the gate.

Removing her family meant wheelchairs and explaining to her 5 year old ‘what they’d done wrong’ and why they couldn’t return home that day, and sorting out accommodations for the night in a foreign country.

According to an American Airlines spokesperson, “Our team is in contact with the customer to better understand her experience.”

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. It is very annoying to be on an airplane in any class and someone is playing music or watching videos without a headphone/earphone…..very inconsiderate. I side with the flight attendants.

  2. I am so tired of this race card being pulled as an excuse to escape accountability. It sickens me. A huge percentage of airline workers are people of color themselves. I once saw, when airlines still had blankets and pillows available, a passenger screaming that she was not given one, after the supply had run out, because she was a black woman. The flight attendant involved was dumbfounded since she herself was a very dark skinned woman of color! Look, I have been on flights in premium seats, where children are allowed to listen to devices at blaring volume. It’s simple courtesy to be mindful that you are not in your living room but sharing a space with other people that paid as much for their tickets or more. If any person, white, black or green, believes their rights preclude the rights and comfort of everyone around them, perhaps they might consider driving their personal vehicle to get to their destination.

  3. Honestly, I would be annoyed as well, in any class of service, if a child was watching something without headphones.

  4. She didn’t give her daughter headphones after being told to do so? Not a particularly smart move in today’s environment.

  5. @rjb I’m not sure if they are required but they should be. Seems to be an increase in the number of people who watch videos without headphones or have calls on speakerphone on the trains around my city, at the airport, and on the planes. The flight attendants do a good job asking the passengers to use headphones but it’s surprising how many people need to be told.

  6. I think nowadays bitches just need to step up their game, and stop playing the lame ass racial card. Gurl, you need to come up with a better lie than black women not belonging to first class. You are disgusting, period. Your color is irrelevant.

  7. If airlines kicks off everyone who are not using headphones I would applaud them. However, that is seldom the case and the FAs are likely responsible for this discrimination. Passengers need a way to report airline staff for their bad behavior and there needs to be consequences.

  8. AA’s made announcements on several of my flights telling ALL pax that headphones are required and you cannot watch/listen to content out loud.

    This isn’t a first class thing. It’s not a racism thing. It’s a typical rule. It’s also the decent, non-rude thing to do. Wear headphones!

    At least IFE screens force headphone use. But then again, this was AA so no IFE system

  9. let me guess… .American didn’t have a set of headphones it could have given for the child because the plane didn’t have in-seat AVOD. And no one in a party of 8 people in first class had a headset that would have worked w/ the tablet? While it is hard to believe that someone would travel w/o headsets for a personal electronic device, the escalation on AA’s part is WAY out of proportion to what was necessary to maintain a quiet cabin, even when half or more of the cabin was from the same family.

    Shooting first and asking questions later is so American Airlines

  10. Why talk about colour and ethnicity all the while, saying y’all are past discrimination and it won’t be tolerated. Wear your headphones/ear buds like everyone else. Its not important that your a Black Attorney travelling 1st Class with a large family.

  11. So one kid isn’t wearing a mask. She admits the kid is 2 years old and the other is watching tv without headphones. I guess how many times were they reminded to fix this problem first?

  12. For once I’ll take the f/a’s side. There was absolutely no reason to not wear headphones. I’m sure the f/a even offered a set of freebies but NOOOOOO Ms. “I’m a lawyer” decided the rules of AA and the rules of decency and consideration didn’t apply to her. Not really surprising. She pushed the envelope and the crew fixed her ass. I’m okay returning to the gate for this kind of stuff because we all know as the plane got up there, the volume would have gotten louder and louder and the arrogance and queen mizz attitude would have only increased. How do you like them apples counsellor?

  13. @Tim – She responded to some Facebook comments.

    Says she did have headphones but her daughter ‘doesnt understand’ them, then says they are like being on mute, then says she is fine with volume on mute – she just wants her daughter to see the pictures.

    Her daughter is not wearing a mask. Not sure if that plays a role or not.

    Hard to get a full read – I will say she doesn’t shy away from the ‘first class’ card herself as if there is a different standard there.

    And in her comments it’s a female FA not visible who was the one who had the altercation.

  14. Between planes and trains, I travel weekly. Simple rule: never ever use your device’s speaker on mass transit. This is not complicated. It fails the “what if everyone did it?” test miserably. If your daughter needs moving pictures to keep her calm, and you readily concede that the sound doesn’t matter, don’t start off with the sound on and wait for someone to call you out on it. FYI, I have two kids.

    I don’t remotely care what class of service you’re in, what you do for a living or what color your skin is. Don’t. Use . The. Speaker.

  15. Gurl, please

    You damn well know better. Flying is stressful enough: the only thing more miserable being trapped in a flying sardine can is being trapped in a sardine can and being subjected to an ongoing disturbance of the peace. Your entitled butt thought you could have your child watching some gobbledygook kiddie film and disturb other passengers? No!

    Siding with AMERICAN on this one.

    It’s not a class (of service) thing, it’s not a race thing and it’s not an overreacting thing: as an individual with higher education — who should clearly know the difference between right and wrong —- you were inconsiderate, damn selfish, and you — and your family — were rightly turfed off the plane.

  16. No matter what class of service you are in, you need to respect other passengers. You should not be listening to any video, no matter how old or race you are, out loud. It’s simply inconsiderate and inappropriate to the rest. We can’t be using racism as an excuse when it’s not applicable.

  17. DWT said: Honestly, I would be annoyed as well, in any class of service, if a child was watching something without headphones.

    But it’s OK for a baby adult, like you?

  18. Annoying to have anyone listen to cellphone conversations, videos outloud etc.
    People are selfish now. ME ME ME….. self entitled to do what they think is okay. NO!

  19. I think AA overreacted. Just last week, I was was on AA PHL-LAX: one elder lady watched her favorite sitcom without headphone. Nothing to her. People complained, and flight attendant asked her twice. The lady ignored them all. Nothing happen to her. She was an elder white lady. Don’t tell me that there isn’t any double standards. They may not be on every flight, but the people who ignores race cards are the people who don’t live with pre-judgements every day. Also this is a kid. There are a lot more irritating adult behaviors onboard than this. Like all the race card deniers

  20. Takes five seconds to do a Google search on her. She’s a personal injury attorney. She could be as white as a sheet of paper and I’d take this story with a grain of salt. Not that there aren’t legitimate personal injury claims and/or personal injury attorneys, but she’s experienced at pushing emotional buttons and telling a tale.

    Bottom line – wait for the facts on this one. In fact, wait for the facts on all such stories.

  21. I wonder who would have complained – if she took up 8 seats in first class, that’s pretty much the whole section, lol.

  22. I have witnessed the same as @Mike, but on a different flight, and the passenger was young, not elderly, but….y’all guessed it… WHITE. The flight attendant actually DID say something to her. But it was a very polite reminder that speakers might be disruptive to others and that was that!! No behavior change and no further enforcement.

    All racists and privileged asses above me MISS ME with your intolerant nonsense. There are double standards of enforcement and BIPOC are systematically getting the short end of the stick. Of course we should all use headphones, but that’s not the crux of this issue. The crux of this issue is UNEQUAL TREATMENT IN CASE OF VIOLATIONS.

  23. Yet another race baiting incident and once again playing the “victim card” instigated by some “ambulance chasing” attorney that wants to make the point being black mandidates special rules . Face it, this plus not wearng a mast reeks of trying to prevoke an incident. The cabin is irrelevant and has noting to do with it. Using the device without a headset in any part of the plane is inconsiderate, irresponsible and rude.

  24. Always using the race card to deflect from poor behavior is very typical. We are not blind. We haven’t prejudged. When we’ve witnessed one group throughout our lives committing or behaving a negative way much more than other groups, it’s not fair to pretend race doesn’t matter. Judgements of her on the basis of anything are fair.

    This woman likely was indifferent to her child making noise in the cabin and responded aggressively to a flight attendant who asked her to monitor and control her child. This isn’t Waffle House. This is a plane with passengers and in a cabin where people pay for more peace and tranquillity.

  25. Those commenting about other cases where someone without a headset wasn’t kicked off the plane please provide more context. Did this happen while still on the ground or in the air? The incident cited here happned on the ground and the crew determined this woman was a potential problem due to her lack of cooperation. It may or may not have had anything to do with her race. I believe I’ve read incidents of other uncooperative people who were kicked off planes and no one mentioned their race. But whenever it is someone of color, suddenly it’s important to know.

    Reading the blogs, it’s clear that in today’ environment you had best cooperate with the air crew or face the consequences.. I doubt that color is a major input into this equation.

  26. Why do we NOT see the female flight attendant? Is she Black? Latino? Attorney Karen is not black first she is just FIRST CLASS BATCH and wants you to know she is FIRST CLASS and she PAID for it.

    FLOW DIRECTIONS Wear headphones NO Devices on during take off and landing.

    We were at a restaurant and a family had the I-pad playing a kIds toon for 30+Min so they did not have to watch their 2 yr old son at 9pm at night …….. i was about to go over there and tell them to TURN THAT DAM THING OFF.

  27. Typical “play the race card” attitude by this female. It is the go to reason for anything when you don’t need to follow the rules. Pathetic at the least. Just admit you thought the rules didn’t apply to you or your family.

  28. Please tell me what use AA has for headphones if there is no AVOD IFE?

    I totally get that there is no question that playing any personal electronic device in public is taboo but the lady said she reduced the volume to zero. Did she do it fast enough for the FA? Maybe not but if she did it before the announcement was made that the plane was turning around, then there is no excuse for the rest of what happened.

    And the woman in her post specifically said this is the first time in her life she has felt like she was the target of racism so her own words decry those that assert she is playing the race card. For a black grandmother that is a pretty strong statement and it wouldn’t be too hard to prove her wrong if she wasn’t telling the truth.

    People are quick to throw out the race card but few are willing to ask why American flight attendants are so much more willing to create conflict where other airlines seem to be able to defuse situations. Do you honestly think that people reserve their worst behavior for American compared to other airlines when the big 4 easily serve over 100 million passengers/year?

    I have been on flights with parents playing PEDs without headphones for kids. People (including me) just turn and stare at the parent and they have ALWAYS gotten the message.

    American can decide if it was worth it or not but I doubt very seriously if American won anything after the public relations mess that this created.

  29. This all so sad..I flew for over 25 years..there are better ways to have handle this..the F/A was so wrong..this woman should have been treated with more are kids..first class doesn’t entitle you to determine everything!!

  30. @Rog
    Not a chance. Since I’m civilized and not feral like you, Woke and the ambulance chaser are, I fly Delta.

  31. Cell phone users should keep this in mind when they walk around screaming into their cell phones. Who wants to hear the conversations they are having. I would guess some of this complainers are guilty of offending the ears of people nearby. What ever did these cell phone people do before you could walk around and disturb people.

  32. @Ken

    That’s why it’s time for cameras in the cabin like on buses. It’s always he said she said. Since we should never automatically take sides with those who can and often do abuse authority and positions of power, cameras would provide clarity after the fact. Flight attendants would know they can’t get away with lying and passengers can’t as well.

  33. This is a stupid story You don’t sit on an airplane making noise of any kind, no matter what cabin you are occupying, or what age you are. Your gender, height, shoe size, hair color or ethnic group doesn’t matter either. A clueless clod is what you are if you disturb others because you’re ignorant.

  34. I’d have been more bothered about turning around to kick them off the plane than I would have been hearing bubble guppies on my flight. AA seems to enforce things to make a point rather than trying to solve a problem. I’m staying away from the dumpster fire that is AA

  35. Good job AA. This woman is a personal injury lawyer playing the race card hoping to get her eight first class seats paid for. I especially loved quote in her FB post: “Your captain walked out of his private cellar and didn’t ask 1question but agreed to kick us off.”

    Private cellar??

    And by the way, what’s wrong with reminding a passenger that they are in first class and to put headphones on?? The other 8 First passengers should thank AA!

    There’s always two sides to the story.

  36. I have an issue with a two year old being singled out like that. I also have an issue with the race card being used – again. I suspect there were wrongs on both sides, but in the end, if the FA gave an instruction and the passenger or passengers refused to comply, then yes, they can remove someone from the plane. Whether they should have done so is something that’s above my pay grade.

    This might be a perfect example of why the equivalent of a Ring camera could or should be installed at the front of the cabin looking aft so we’d have the real view of what happened from start to finish. .

    I will say this one thing in possible defense of the FAs and American: I fly first class a lot due to injuries. I need the better leg room and wider seat or I’ll be in serious pain, so when I fly out of the LA Basin for the Midwest or Hawaii, I’ll pay more for the added comfort and service. Having paid extra, I would be very sensitive to any additional noise and tomfoolery (boy, do I ever sound like Mr. Wilson!) in the premium cabin. You expect a certain level of gentility and proper decorum from your fellow passengers when flying first class given what you’re paying, and that includes controlling your children. .

  37. As a retired flight attendant, I can remember how irritating it can be to other passengers when someone decides to listen to music or a DVD without headphones. Some people are trying to concentrate on work (especially in first class), others are trying to sleep and others find it just obnoxious, extraneous noise. It is airline policy to use earphones. You were not kicked off because your child didn’t have earphones. You were kicked off because YOU failed to comply with crewmember instructions. (14 C.F.R. § § 91.11, 121.580, 135.120.) If you can’t comply on the ground, most crew members can’t trust you would comply in the air or in the event of an emergency. I would have had you removed, as well. The only one I feel sorry for is the child who didn’t receive proper guidance from her mother. This wasn’t racially motivated. This was someone potentially protecting other passengers and the flight itself.

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