R&B Singer Reports Being Threatened Over Boarding With First Class Passengers On American

R&B singer Lyfe Jennings flew American Airlines and recorded his last interaction with the airline as he boarded his flight, being asked whether there would be any issues on the flight – whether he was going to be a troublemaker – after, he says, he was continually questioned over boarding as a first class passenger. He believes the airline’s employees were skeptical that he belonged in first class because he’s black.

I’ve been told that Mr. Jennings first was asked whether he was in fact a first class passenger at the priority check-in line. That’s not unusual per se, though at the same time I’ve never been asked. There was apparently another exchange at the check-in kiosks, so perhaps he wasn’t accommodated in the priority line though he was a first class passenger. His third interaction was at the gate.

According to an American Airlines spokesperson,

Mr. Jenning’s account is troubling and doesn’t align with our values or mission to care for all of our customers. Our team immediately began working to understand what transpired and reached out to him to learn more about his experience.

American met the passenger on arrival at Dallas – Fort Worth and followed up with him after the flight.

While no airline today tries to be more woke than United Airlines, American Airlines CEO Doug Parker wears a Black Lives Matter wristband and lobbies against voting restrictions bills, believing they target people of color. An encounter he had on a Southwest flight last year went viral amidst the nationwide outcry over George Floyd.

Parker seems to sincerely have embraced racial healing after the NAACP’s 2017 travel warning against flying American Airlines which followed Womens March Co-Chair and Louis Farrakhan supporter Tamika Mallory, traveling to Al Sharpton’s daughter’s wedding, being kicked off a flight in a dispute over a seat (she reported changing her middle seat to an aisle on a kiosk, but was denied that aisle seat).

Even if it surprises you that someone is in the first class line at the gate (lots of young people and women report the same – basically if you don’t look like me now that I’m in my 40s), the solution is simple: just have the gate agent check boarding group as they take boarding passes. There’s no reason to confront the passenger while they’re queueing. If a passenger boards with first class and their boarding pass doesn’t say first class (or, now, Executive Platinum too) then bump them out of line.

Of course that doesn’t work as well when there’s just one frazzled agent at the gate working desperately to get the flight out on time. It hadn’t even occurred to me that American’s move to single agent boarding to save money might actually promote racial tensions.

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 InsideFlyer.com, 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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Comments

  1. Undoubtedly someone was doing something rude here, but it wasn’t necessarily AA employees, based on what we see on the tweet. All we know is that someone was questioning whether or not he should be in the First Class line – he doesn’t say it’s an AA employee. However, he responds rather rudely and in your face to her. Yes, she’s being awful, but that generally doesn’t mean you get to escalate the rudeness up a notch. I’m sure what the gate agent was telling him when asking if he was going to be a “problem” is to tell him to take it down a notch. not questioning whether or not he belonged in First Class – his boarding pass clearly indicated he belonged.

    FWIW, last time I flew AA in April, we had an aircraft switch due to a mechanical issue, so we had to switch concourses. We somehow missed the gate change announcement, so zipped across the airport a little late and arrived at the gate as they were boarding the regular passengers. Since we were Group 4, we went to the now empty Priority Line and stood at the rope, awaiting our turn. Got a whole lot of side-eye from the hundred or so people in the regular line. The boarding agent opened to rope for us and let us in, but someone the regular line started complaining about why did we get to go first and cut the line. We ignored it, but AA promptly replied that we had Boarding Group 4, and got to go first. And keep in mind we got this much crap from other passengers and we look like the type of people who get to board first, even if it’s only because we carry the right credit card. It’s not being black that cause people to act like jerks, they’re pretty much jerks to anyone that are getting ahead of them.

  2. Is anyone really surprised by this? I’m disgusted but not shocked since in America (and Europe) such things happen in many small and sometimes large ways every single day of the year.

  3. At my home airport (SJO), there is ALWAYS a premium line dragon and I am ALWAYS asked if I am in the correct place. Damn my white privilege!

  4. I think American airline needs some great attention base of on their agents ; in 1994 I flew with the company and I was so much turned off that I had decided never try them again. I were the only woman of color and I were in my 20s and barely spoke English, I were so embarrassed , after boarding from Chicago airport while I were in the plane one agent came after me to ask to get out from the plane very surprising, all the passengers were looking at each other and asked me what was going ; anyway,I smiled and followed her. She checked my ticket once we got to the front and told me ; oh it was a mistake. Why would have that been ! After checking my ticket and telling to go. Just to we color have to always answer to a lot of questions no matter how wealthy we are or how educated we are things need to change in a lot of people’s minds. It doesn’t matter which color we think we are let all love and accept each other. I’m speaking out today because I’m reading this article and I’m reminiscing how I were threaded years ago and I were speechless and I can’t believe this issue is still taking place in 2021. All Airlines Agents need to know and understand that if they check a passenger and that passenger goes in the plane; that means that person has a clear ticket so for someone to come back later to say follow me , its very odd. Agents need proper training to accept all colors.

  5. Don’t make assumptions! You were not there.

    It may be accurate that he was only able to record his LAST interaction with the AA staff, OR, he chose not to record same prior to his last interaction.

    Without more, no one knows anything about this interaction except the parties involved….

    One could just as easily make an assumption that he was acting weirdly or badly and it had nothing to do with his race…..

    Jeez people, have you not seen enough self-serving statements, actions by enough people to at least refrain from making a judgment????

    Have none of you learned that sometimes people fake reported claims of abuse???

    Let an investigation prove if this is meritless or not.

    I do, however, find this complaint against AA ironic!

  6. White privilege means you can never blame your skin color for your failings in life or the troubles you encounter. You have to own them.

  7. This customer’s interaction with AA employees triggered the issue he posted about. Being civil and responsible could have quickly de-escalated any problem he believed he had. Saying “sick of this s_ _ _” and “get the f_ _ _ out of my face” only triggered concerns about his potential behavior on the flight. I’ll never understand why people think that arguing or rude comments is the way to go when they have a conflict with someone…doesn’t get you anywhere and doesn’t resolve the issue…and it doesn’t matter what color you are…applies to everyone. I guess the expression “treat people the way you want to be treated” doesn’t apply anymore….smh…

  8. I have workef for over thirty years as an airline front line customer service agent..gate agent..ticket agent…American was one of the four airlines i worked for..i know first hand that my white coworkers would smile in my face and treat passengers of color like crap..ESPECIALLY when it comes to first class..as a Black airlibe employee myself i have been questioned why i was in first class and if i was SOMEBODY…this is not made up its real people.

  9. Fly AA regularly.
    I observe people standing and blocking the premium lines daily.
    Or they “accidentally” flow into the incorrect lane.
    How convenient?
    Lol.
    I appreciate agents who ensure the line remains a privilege.

  10. Every time I see a headline about negative experiences while flying, it’s American. I’ve flown many millions of miles and AA is my airline of last resort. The crew is almost always deeply unhappy and they take it out on the customers. The CEO may be “woke” but the culture is toxic.

  11. It couldn’t be that he dresses like and acts like a dumb ignorant individual that is the type that usually makes trouble for airline staff…..not at all! It has to be that he is black and everyone else is the racist in this situation!

  12. I believe they were rude because I always fly first class and I’m black and I noticed I was treated differently. They always ask for my ID again and look funny .

  13. ALL these Caucasians and their one track mind just because it doesn’t happen to them that means it is impossible for a Negro to face these afflictions. I even see the Caucasians talking about how he dresses and that mae him rude and ignorant and all kinds of crap… Sadly, African Americans don’t and can’t see that these people are their enemies and will never ever be their allies or friends.
    Slavery 2.0 is truly happening.

  14. C_M must stand for “Confused Mutha******
    This happens and it can be very aggravating to be questioned about the seat you PAID for over and over. Try placing your small mind in another’s place, position, role just once, and MAYBE you might see a glimpse into reality.

  15. Surprising this is the time you people choose to side with AA. Every other post you guys bash AA. Had that been me I would have checked that lady who questioned me if I should be in the line. Mind your damn business. Yes white people are privileged as hell. I see them all the time acting like being first in line is some accomplishment when boarding an aircraft. There is no ore departure beverage.

  16. She was rude and insensitive.
    We all encounter that. Please quit whining.

  17. I flew American Airlines this past Thursday from LaCrosse Wisconsin to Chicago, and I am handicapped, therefore I asked the stewardess if she could possibly give me a seat closer to the front of the plane. Her comment was, “We don’t do that for anyone!” and she was very snotty about it. I didn’t feel that my request was unreasonable considering the circumstances, but I did feel that her response was unkind, and very unprofessional. If I could have gotten her name, I certainly would report her to the airline. As it is, I have a return flight this week, and it will certainly be the LAST time I fly American Airlines.

  18. Hey Leff, how about try and discern between who’s having a “newsworthy encounter” with and airline and some nasty looking passenger who obviously just wants some attention. I wouldn’t want to sit next to this trash if I’d paid for first class – or even shucked out some points. He’s supposedly an “R&B artist” so logically he needs the click bait.
    Set some standards man!

  19. I flew American just last week out of Phoenix and I was also asked at least 3 times the exact same question and I’m a white girl!! His attitude is probably what sparked additional questioning, but god forbid he takes responsibility for it!!

  20. OMG. The blatant racism in the comments. How he dressed, he’s ignorant, being a rapper means you’re a thug, etc!!!

    I guess next someone is going to ask why he didn’t say ” yes sir/mama can I have another.” Not even trying to hide the disdain.

  21. Only people who think it is OK to be repeatedly questioned about if he was where he “should be” would find his response to have escalated the situation. And then we are supposed to take the profiling and racism with our mouths shut, and go along about our way. Hell no. I’m sick of this shit too.

  22. I am 70. Retired. When I worked, I was a road warrior and spent most of my time flying and in hotels. I have travelled the world on all the U.S. and a large number of foreign carriers. The job of airline gate staff as well as on board staff is very trying and I have great sympathy for them. People are always trying to game the system. Often getting in the wrong lines deliberately or sometimes innocently. Of course, there is a lot of crap black people in general in the U.S. have taken for generations and it continues to this day. So, I can understand this man’s frustration. As for airlines and their dealings with customers, there is simply no comparison of U.S. carriers with counterparts like Japan Airlines and Singapore Airlines…..to name just two. The gate agents at Japan Airlines even bow to you, the customer, before they board you….to show you respect and thanks.

  23. This is just all in a day of being blk. No one is surprised about this.. But let it be known, we’re no longer sitting quietly when some nosy non person of color feels we don’t belong… Always escalate it, until all the karens and Darrens learn to mind their business..

  24. Based on his own account, there may be blame to go around. The gate agent should have just checked his boarding pass instead of asking. That said, every flight I take lately has people trying to board in the wrong group, or using the wrong check-in line. So some of this could be proactive checking, and some could be profiling… Either way, they should just wait to check the boarding pass and send them back if they aren’t in the right group.

    Now he says that he responded rudely to the gate agent, so it’s not surprising the other agent would ask if there was going to be a problem.

    They both could have been better humans. The gate agent is probably burnt out from the types of people flying now, who are rude, aggressive, and don’t understand how airports/airlines work (and don’t bother listening).

  25. I was in line waiting to get a new tire…already signed in…just waiting my turn..I should add I am a white female…

    A black male, pushed his way past those of us waiting our turns demanded to a black male employee that he should be next..he yelled cursed and made a jack a** out of himself..

    Finally, the black employee waved over a white coworker told him to see to his needs..he smiled real big giving us a better then you smirk..

    The white employee took his keys then returned to the car he was originally working on..while the black employee began working in my car…damn my white privilege!

  26. Seems like the same OLD BOY American Airlines to me. My last time flying American, the flight was delayed due to inclement weather. My first class ticket was downgraded in Charlotte, because first class was full. NOT TRUE! When we got to Miami, where we could not fly out until the next day, I was not even offered a hotel because I was not first-class. I eventually got to my destination more tired and frustrated that the $500 extra dollars I paid for the perks that were NOT given means that American Airlines does not want me as a customer. My skin may be brown but money is green just like everyone else’s…but mine will never be given to American Airlines again!!

  27. Wow! Just WOW! Reading these comments is mind-blowing to me. Not that everything is based on race, but how is it so far-fetched to believe that this man could have had a racial encounter given the history of the USA?!?! The Tulsa Massacre (one of many) was just recognized after 100 years (!) yet people are still choosing to be ignorant about the direct and indirect unfair treatment of POCs in this country. WHY?!?!? News flash: there wouldn’t need to be a Black Lives Matter movement or an NAACP if we POCs had been left alone to begin with. Just like this encounter wouldn’t have happened if Lyfe Jennings had been left alone!!! It only takes one time to ask a question and get an answer. Regardless of how he was dressed or who he is, he deserves to be treated with respect and not unnecessarily profiled. It’s funny the caucasity used to rationalize this BS behavior and then [people] have the nerve to claim anti-whiteness when it comes to having Critical Race Theory or ACCURATE US history taught in schools. Ignorance is bliss!

  28. I’ve never had the AA folks do it, but on my last (paid F) flight, I had other PASSENGERS do it. It was beyond rude. Dressed in comfortable clothes for my red eye, and looking younger than I am, and ethnic–whether or not that had any bearing or not, I don’t know–an uppity looking pompous type from the east coast asked me if I was “aware” I was in the First Class line, as if I were an ignoramus who didn’t belong in her clique. Not only was I flying F, but I am also Platinum Pro (earned the old-fashioned way), so I was in that line either way. I still can’t shake how much that shook me. It does throw you when you know you don’t “look” the part to someone–whoever it is, for whatever reason.

  29. Just do what UA does – their system confirms the boarding group as the BP barcode is being scanned. If the passenger boarded ahead of their boarding group, it will flag the boarder.

  30. A gate agent at PDX told me “this line isn’t for you sir” as I tried to board using the first class (domestic) lane. I am white but was wearing T-shirt, shorts and flip flops. I guess they have a certain stereotype of what first class passengers should look like and have to deal with a lot of people trying to break the rules. But it’s pretty poor customer service to make it obvious that they think you don’t look like you belong in the class you’re giving them extra money for.

  31. Wow… Most of everyone seems really racist on here… Well as a BLACK FEMALE, married to a Caucasian for 15 years im not really on either side. But yes i would of been a bit upset having someone continue to question me about a seat i paid for. And btw Ryan Waldron, we all know their were mixed groups of ppl in those George Floyd riots. And yes the majority were black. And havoc was reeked. But i damn sure didnt see not one black person mixed in arm to arm with however many dumb ass caucasians it was running up in a federal building taking pics, and dressing in costume just because some presidental asshole told them to when he wouldnt even piss on the best parts of them. Of every idiot that showed up, and was dumb enough to get caught, i didn’t hear not one of their names in a pardon… Y’all need to stop this shit fr!!

  32. Been asked multiple times on multiple airlines in multiple countries if I’m in the right line at the gate. Hell I’ve even been challenged by staff gatekeeping elite check-in zones and I simply smile and flash them my account ony phone.

    Am I being oppressed, no. Am I being a victim, no. Are people doing their job based on often seconds of assessment as I approach, yes. Will they always get it right, of course not. Do I throw my dummy put the pram simply because I was asked a simple question, nope. Am I then immediately welcomed and wished a pleasant flight, sure am.

    I guess if you don’t instantly assess it’s ‘muh racism’ and the world’s out to get to you so you’re going to shout and swear at anyone who has the audacity to ask you a question then sh*ts a lot easier.

  33. The racist rats are at it again, assuming this passenger/R&B artist (not rapper you idiots) is trashy bc what?? No surprise. You people are so predictable it’s laughable. Your racist rants no longer catch me of guard: you are just being your hateful, barbaric, cave loving selves, not dissimilar from your ancestors. You complain about Black people complaining, but all hell breaks loose if something happens to one of your nose picking, booger eating, bath skipping nasty a$$ brats. We smell you brad, we smell and see you Karen. What a better world it would be without trash like you.

  34. I miss the old days where if you flew first class, you actually had class.This dude has no class. Black, white, Latino, whatever, if you act like a low life, you will and should pay the consequences. By the way, I’m white, female 60 and I flew 1st class the other day on AA and was questioned in the priority lane as to whether I was in the correct line. I said yes Ma’am and that was it.

  35. A few years back a steward asked me the same question twice regarding my seat in 1st class. I had a T-Shirt baggy shorts on and didn’t look the part of a 1st class customer I guess.
    BTW I am white so cut the BS with the BLM BS!!!!

  36. Flew out of Fort Lauderdale and passengers bum rushed the gate when they announced boarding. I was in group 1 and was disappointed gate agent allowed people on line to board in wrong zones

  37. To my racist friends, let me know how much better things would have turned out for you if you were marginalized, driven to the edge of society, not allowed to vote, not allowed to build wealth, treated like animals over centuries (that is 100s) of years. Your communities are impoverished, your schools are bad, your water is toxic, you are over-priced etc. Let me know and we can have this conversation after.

  38. @skeewee comments about all the “racist rats” – immediately goes on to make multiple, racist remarks in their comment

  39. This is why I only fly economy. Why pay more just to receive less? I never ate the food, even before the pandemic when I was flying international. I always made sure my carry on was within their guidelines. And when I was offered upgrades, I declined because I understood real well that we all would land at the same time. I have traveled to 10 countries and have never had a problem. But if a day come that I try First class and a agent feels the need to question am I am in the right zone, I will simply show my ticket. And aftering showing my ID to board a flight and then having an agent come ask me for ID again will be a no until I see you have asked everyone before me for ID.
    But I will kindly show you my ticket.

  40. Wow! Reading this stirred up so many emotions. All the entitled uneducated closet racists continue to use platforms like this to say what they really feel. No one knows what this man was going through before his flight. All the separate occasions where you smile with no rebuttals, ignore the racist comments or ignore the fact that you’re being racially profiled gets old and tired. How much do you accept before you snap?! I have been in Customer Service for many years! I have dealt with many different races and there are some good ones and there are some bad. But if you have a conversation with the bad and show empathy you will find out the root of why! Wake up and learn people!!!!

  41. As an EP traveller with American for the last four years, I can state that on the vast majority of the flights I am on, there are several African-American travellers in First/Business.
    I have never seen anyone been questioned in such a manner while boarding, by the gate agents.
    I’m not saying I have seen perfect behavior by all gate agents,, all the time, but I’ve never seen any being blatantly discriminatory, to anyone., regardless of race, gender, or age.

  42. @Ted: Amazing how the ignorant like yourself cling to the past and constantly complain about things that generations of people have never experienced. Maybe you and yours could get ahead in life if you stopped bitching about a past you never experienced and got on with working hard and earning all the things that are available to you through hard work, but you sit around and complain are not handed to you for free because you think you are entitled to a free ride in life. Maybe people would not be treated like animals if they did not act like them….gunning themselves down in the street, throwing bricks and ice at the police every time something they don’t like happens to someone a thousand miles away. If you spend 100% of your time bitching about how you are so entitled to everything because of a past that you have never experienced, it’s no surprise that you will never get anywhere in life. Why don’t you try shutting the hell up and working hard for what you want in life like those of us who have everything you claim you are entitled to? Voluntarily attempting to be a victim of things that have NEVER happened to you is not going to get you anywhere in life.

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