On February 3, a black woman flying Delta from Atlanta to San Francisco was asked to move to the back of the aircraft in order to make two white women more comfortable, giving them extra space in their row.
She had been seated in 15A, while the two woman were in 15B and C. They kept complaining that they were supposed to be in first class “due to a phone call they had with a Delta representative” but they did not have first class boarding passes. Two seats were open up front.
The two women complained about their seating to a flight attendant, but they were told nothing could be done since they had coach boarding passes. Complaining to a second flight attendant, they got the same answer, to basically take it up with Delta after the flight. However 10 minutes later,
[W]hile Henderson was trying to sleep, she said a flight attendant came back and asked if she was traveling alone.
She recalled the flight attendant saying that if she moved, it would give the two women more room.
Henderson, 25, said she didn’t want to make a scene and agreed to transition from her window seat to an aisle seat in the very back of the plane.
She agreed to move. She felt like “the whole plane is looking at me.” A flight attendant offered her a complimentary cocktail, but she doesn’t drink.
I have three reactions to this,
- In one sense, moving to the back of the plane was voluntary. But you don’t really want to refuse flight attendant instructions. And you doubly may not want to push back on authority if you’re a black woman. She feared “being labeled disruptive and potentially being reprimanded.”
- When she complained to Delta after the flight, a supervisor said being asked to move was no big deal because “it was still the main cabin.” This completely misses the optics of a black woman being asked to move to ‘the back of the bus’ to make white woman more comfortable.
- What were there empty seats up front for on such a long flight? I have heard numerous examples of gate agents not processing upgrades since the start of the pandemic. Delta capped the cabin’s capacity at 50% which often meant leaving empty seats, and many agents seemingly just stopped gate upgrades altogether. I’ve asked Delta about this multiple times without an answer.
It’s reasonable to try to mollify unhappy passengers, especially when there are open seats on the aircraft. Squeaky wheel, and all. And it’s easy to miss the racial context, and how this would land on the woman being asked (and from the flight attendant’s perspective, she was just being asked). It seems like there were good intentions all around. However the woman has said over and over that she doesn’t want compensation, just acknowledgment. She wants to be heard and Delta should hear her.