Black Woman Says Delta Booted Her To Back Of Plane To Make White Woman More Comfortable

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.

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. I agree, this looks awful. I expect that it was not meant like it appears but this but definitely was not handled well in the larger context. Assuming people couldn’t be shuffled around in other rows to give space, two possibilities suggest themselves: 1) give the two complainers (and their seat mate) free meals or something like that to make them feel like they are sort of in first class, or 2) move the single lady to first class. Then the two complainers can spread out and hopefully that will be the end of it. If neither option is possible, I guess they’ll have to go to telephone hell.

  2. She had the misfortune to be seated next to a couple DYKWIAs.

    But the media is making the story about her skin color. How repugnant.

  3. How is it the 2 ladies could not provide 1st class boarding passes? Although it is not the best feeling to move seats to a row further aft of the aircraft, would you really want to be stuck sitting next to 2 complainers an entire flight?

  4. These flight attendants have a very difficult job these days but this one is definitely on them. It’s sad that a Black woman even had to decide not to debate her case due to a ridiculous stereotype. Stop blaming media for everything as a scapegoat and start recognizing the issues that still exist today in this society. Also, I disagree with the contradictory comment in this article saying that her moving to the back was voluntary – you then listed justified reason why this situation was not. Should she raise hell and then be the one recorded and blasted on social media as the disruptive Black woman that started the entire thing? – I assure you that’s would’ve happened.

  5. Over at United, when closing the flight, the flight attendants would be provided the final upgrade list (which would disappear from public view on various platforms). Used to be printed, I imagine it’s now on everyone’s company iPhone. This means crew onboard are empowered to upgrade eligible passengers after the ground agent closes the flight.

  6. The obvious solution was either to move the single traveler to first class (where there were seats open) or to move one or both of the complainers to the back of the plane so that they would each have an empty seat next to them.

  7. Many times I was asked to move to another seat maybe because being a homosexual I was too flamboyant to stay in the seat I was assigned.

  8. For those saying the black woman should have been moved to first class, I want to agree, but can you imagine what would happen then when the two white women who wanted those seats inevitably flipped out? And how awkward that would have become for both the FAs and the lone woman who never asked for any of this?

  9. Should have moved the woman to an empty F/C seat and let the two DYKWIAs share the row in coach.

  10. Why does everything have to be reduced to race? Whether Delta should have asked anyone to move to accommodate two other people is the real issue if all of the facts are on the table.

  11. They should have put the black chick in first class for reparations for slavery then called AA and have Woke Dougie come over and sit next to her for the flight so they can talk about how terrible and racist this horrible country is. Its obvious that the crew and ALL passengers onboard (even Black, Asian and Hispanic) were white supremacists.
    My money says that this story is 100% bullshit.

  12. Brings back a great memory . Circa 1988 on TWA . There was an equipment swap from MD80 to DC9. Father in party of 6 raised heck about having been moved from 3 rows on 2 seat side to 2 rows on 3 seat side . He would not stop his loud complaints and was disrupting the cabin and potentially delaying flight . Gate Agent In Charge comes aboard and moves 3 rows of 2 side seats to First Class. The father then , of course , protests that his group should be moved to F. Agent calmly replied that he insisted on 3 rows of 2 seat side and she gave him exactly what he wanted . Red faced and hopefully embarrassed , father and family took their 2 side seats and were left to steam . Compliments and laughs were plentiful for the gate agent .

  13. Delta would have been better off not doing anything in this case and let all those ladies sit in their original seats.

  14. I’ve been asked to move for other people’s needs all the time on multiple airlines, and I’m not a black woman.

  15. Amazing how this works. Anyone does anything or says anything to a black person, no matter how innocent, they are immediately wrong and did/said it because that person is black. Who are the racists here. I say we give every one of them who pulls this racist crap their reparations for slavery they are all so keen on getting. Let’s take some of these unused cruise ships, cut oar holes in the sides, fill them up with these racist idiots, and feed them bread and water as they row themselves back to the Ivory Coast and get left there. Kill two birds with one stone, get them out of our society so normal people don’t have to deal with them, and let them see what it is like to have an AK-47 shoved in their face and experience some real slavery, show them how good they had it in a free country until they bit the handout that feeds them.

  16. @CommonSense
    What a repugnant racist troll you have shown yourself to be. Absolutely disgusting and hateful comment.

  17. I was made to feel uncomfortable when the ice melted in my liquor drink from tampa to JFK. Now THAT’s a problem. Screw this lady and her feelings.

  18. Does comfortable = size ?
    If any off them were full figured then it is common sense they would not want to be squished. My worst seat mate was a fat white guy. And I was not comfortable next to him. 12 hour flight too boot.

  19. We may have a similar story from last week with another airline. Waiting on police body cam footage to gather more facts before proceeding.

  20. Moving one person to give 2 others more room in their row? Are you f** kidding me? This is so patently absurd even aside from the race context. Never heard or seen that in 4 decades of flying. If this happened to me I would be tempted to tell the FAs to f** off. But in this day and age, where anyone who disagrees with an FA is ejected from the airplane, it is not an easy call.

    Of course the right move would have been for the FAs to tell the complainers to STFU if they don’t have the correct boarding passes. Any idiot knows that you have to take the seat assigned on your BP. If you failed to check it beforehand (if their story was true, which I doubt) then it’s on you. It isn’t the FAs job to move anybody on board, though sometimes exceptions are made for families that are separated.

    I think most people give the FAs too much credit here. Many are from the South, particularly on Atlanta flights. You would think they would have learned something from all the required training (and just working with some of the wonderful African-American FAs that I’ve encountered on DL) but I guarantee you that is not the case. I’m am skeptical of people playing the race card but I’d bet $$$ it is on the money here.

    If DL management is smart they will get on top of this quickly and offer her some free F travel.

  21. She voluntarily moved. Why is this a racial issue. If it had been two black women sitting there and a white woman who was asked to move would we have read about. Absolutely not? Stop making everything about race!

  22. Everything now a days is about race. Its what makes the headlines. Who wants to hear about same race issues when stigmatizing or shaming another is much more entertaining.

    I also agree with the way things are with the airlines, FA’s have a hard enough job and if they suggest something you better do it, or be labeled a instigator or common terrorist.

    I just want to know when the peasants are going to be able to have a beer, or is that only for the elite in B and F?

  23. @CommonSense

    WELL SAID! The intelligent, normal people in this country are SICK of the b.s.!

    Get rid of them all!

  24. Rog,
    Chris was making a valid point. It was a joke.

    However people should not pay attention to a suffered wrong.
    Read 1 Corinthians chapter 13.
    Nobody should carry their feeling’s on their sleeves.
    The fact that ANYBODY was or could be offended…..means you are thinking about self and not others.
    And a lot of people would be embarrassed to say that they were offended!

  25. How does anyone know what really happened? Maybe the two people WERE supposed to be in First? Maybe the GA didn’t work upgrade list? Maybe the entire group was in Row 19 and they asked the lady to move back to 24 and offered a free drink? No big deal. I’ve been asked to move many times. Too much focus on race and not actual outcomes. Lady had a window in main cabin, ended up with a window in main cabin. Geez, put the race card away. For once.

  26. Common sense is obviously a white supremacist. The flight attendant should have moved two people from the rear of the plane and the two people who were complaining to the back where there were two seats.

  27. Awww..,I seem to have upset some lgbtqmsp millennial morons who didn’t actually bother to read my comment, they just did what they do best….fire up their mock outrage and play the perpetual victim. It is not my choice that it seems to only be black people (And a minority of them at that) that want to make everything about race because the millennial idiots allow them to. Stop making their racism my problem…..I have no problem with anyone until they claim they are entitled because of the color of their skin, their wealth, the particular religious cult they belong to, or any other label they might use for themselves to make themselves feel superior.

  28. “Booted”?? They ASKED her. Who writes these headlines? They would have asked any color pax to move just to shut those entitled ol’ bags up. Only a naive traveller would have moved all the way to the back. I’d have smiled and said “No thanks” and closed my eyes again. Had the crew used their heads, they would have moved her up front. Another ‘horror story’ with no basis or meaning. I do get a charge, however, out of people who want ‘apologies’ from large corporations. The corporation doesn’t care and will just ship out some canned words on a piece of letterhead. So listen up, all you coach pax … if you’re asked to do ANYTHING on a flight, you take a deep breath, gather your thoughts, and respond thusly: “What’s in it for me?”. If you can think fast enough, ask for something, don’t expect the crew to give a rip about you, they just want to get back to their conversations, I mean work.

  29. Unless she was on the 721pm or 920pm flights (739’s) – row 15 on all other DL flights from ATL – SFO (757 & 763’s) are Delta Comfort + (with extra legroom, comp. earbuds, and certain adult beverages included) and she should be mad if she was asked to move.

    That’s a cabin downgrade and she should have been compensated on the spot.

    If she was on the 721pm or 920pm flights – row 15 is Main Cabin – so equal legroom seat move (cabin to cabin).

    Still, it was not right to ask her to move.

  30. @CommonSense – Wow. Just wow. Yes they should be happy they have just a slightly less risk of death/injury. They don’t deserve to be treated the same as the white person.

    @cMorgan – of course wouldn’t have been an issue. The FA wouldn’t dared have inconvenienced the white person.

    @Chris – yep, BS, cause in your ideal world the black woman meekly say “yessum sir/missus. I’m sorry for stepping above my place and sitting up front.”

    @huey judy – of course you would refuse. Difference is that you wouldn’t then be accused of being a threat. You wouldn’t have been told you need to get off plane.

  31. @flyerco They are treated the same as any other person ( Not just white people as your racist mind thinks) until they claim they are better, more entitled, or otherwise superior because of the color of their skin. Just because dumb ignorant people like you fall for their racist B’s does not make the rest of racists for not wanting to put up with their crap or yours for that matter. Let’s hear your ignorant mock outrage response now.

  32. This is so stupid. The woman was nicely asked to help out and she agreed to do so. If she did not want to move, then she should have stayed put. If she has moved, then she should feel good with her “Good Samaritan” action. She was not asked to move because she was black and her neighbors were white. Saying that she was afraid to refuse the request from the FA is unreasonable and her own decision which has nothing to do with race. We should use common sense and stop the inflammatory stupid and divisive headlines.

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