A former Alaskan who will remain unnamed says she witnessed a racially-charged incident last night on Alaska Airlines Flight 78 (Juneau, Alaska to Seattle) at around 5:45 p.m. This is a summary of her account, which she provided over the phone:
While the plane was taxiing on the runway, the pilot decided to return to the gate. At the gate, an Alaska Airlines employee, a white woman who works at Juneau International Airport, boarded the plane, and walked to back, where she was seated and began ordering a group of young black men and women, who were also seated in the back, to leave the plane. The employee’s words according to the witness were, “One of you was rude and upset one of our staff. I want all of you, this whole group, to get off the plane now!”
A woman in the group protested that the airline should simply remove the person that was causing trouble with, not the whole group. She was told that was not an option. The pilot did not want any of them on the flight. He and the staff did not feel safe with this group on board. Everyone had to get out. (The witness gathered that the group was coming from a processing plant.) All of this happened very quickly, and once they were gone, it was announced that the remaining passengers would get a $75 credit and a free glass of wine on the airlines’ dime.
She sent me the email from Alaska Airlines:
AlaskaAir: We apologize for your experience today. Very soon, you’ll receive an email with a $75 discount code off future travel. Reply STOP to cancel.
I contacted Alaska Airline’s about the incident. They confirmed that it did, indeed, happen, but not in the way the witness described. Here is their account:
Shortly after pushback for Alaska Airlines flight 78 from Juneau to Seattle at 6 p.m. local time last night, the pilots decided to return to the gate due to disruptive behavior onboard. The aircraft was taxiing to the runway for takeoff at the time.
Flight attendants reported to the pilots that a group of passengers was not following safety protocol for departure, which included:
— Refusing to stop charging their cell phones (cords must be taken out of the seatback chargers prior to takeoff)
— Refusing to fasten seatbelts
— Refusing to bring their seats to the upright position
— Playing loud music without headphones
— Making inappropriate comments to the flight attendants
Once the aircraft was back at the gate, 11 guests were asked to deplane. There were others who were part of the group who stayed onboard and continued to Seattle; only those who were being disruptive were asked to leave. Those 11 guests later boarded Alaska Airlines flight 66 for Seattle, which took off two hours later at 8:06 p.m. Many of the guests were making connections in Seattle; none of those connections were missed.
It’s standard protocol to remove passengers if they’re behaving in a disruptive manner or not following crewmember instructions. To us, this is a safety issue–if a customer will not comply with crewmember requests on the ground, it’s not safe for us to allow them to fly until they demonstrate that they’re willing to follow basic safety instructions.
Immediately after reading Alaska Airlines’ account of the incident, the woman who witnessed it wrote:
That’s bullshit!!!! If one of the 11 said something inappropriate, I did not hear it. And I was sitting in the back with them. We were all within 4-5 rows of each other. They were being young. They were laughing and joking around with each other. I’m sure the old guys thought they were annoying but they just all seem stoked.
I asked her if she thought the Alaska Airlines employee who boarded the plane had changed her story in the official statement—that it was not one person but the whole group that was the problem, and the former Alaskan said: “Yes, it’s not what happened. She clearly said one multiple times. She never said it was the whole group.”
Right after ending our phone conversation, I ran across the local black artist Maikoiyo Alley-Barnes at the Red Apple on Beacon Hill, and because the whole business was on my mind, I described it to him. When Alley-Barnes heard that the young people “were laughing and joking around,” he thought for a moment and replied: “You know, something people either don’t understand or feel threatened by is black joy. It’s commodified, of course; people make money of it. But when they actually see it, they think it’s disruptive or something they have to punish.”
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