Elgin Banks says a white flight attendant ejected him from the flight after he tried to switch seats. Five other passengers observed the incident and were also ejected when they defended Banks, stating that the flight attendant was vicious and rude.
According the lawsuit, Banks "politely requested if the flight was full and if he could change seats if open seats were available" on a May 31, 2020 flight from Los Angeles to Phoenix. He was told that he could switch seats once all passengers had boarded the flight.
After boarding was complete, several non-black passengers moved seats, but when Banks tried to move seats he was stopped and told to return to his assigned seat. The lawsuit claims a flight attendant became nasty:
Flight Attendant: "Sir, step back!" [in an "aggressive and rudely intimidating tone" according other lawsuit]
Banks: "Okay ma'am, all I was asking is if I could get a seat closer to the front."
The lawsuit further states that the flight attendant admonished Banks for raising his voice. Soon, ground staff appeared and told Banks he would need to leave the aircraft.
That's when other passengers onboard stepped in to defend Banks, disputing that Banks had raised his voice or was being disruptive.
All passengers were removed and according to KTLA, banned from American Airlines.
But American Airlines says the lawsuit "is not a full or accurate portrayal of the incident," with a spokesperson telling NBC News:
"During the boarding process, he attempted to relocate to the first-class cabin prior to leaving the gate. One of the seats he attempted to sit in was assigned to another passenger. The disruption on board required deplaning passengers with the flight departing the next day.
"Discrimination of any kind is not acceptable and does not align with our values, which is why we launched an investigation. We are continuing to review this incident, but we believe that the allegations are not a full or accurate portrayal of the incident."
But multiple passengers onboard disputed that Banks was trying to upgrade to first class, saying that it was a smokescreen to justify his ejection.
You can read the full complaint here.
With several passengers coming forward to defend Banks, American Airlines has a PR nightmare coming even if it turns out Banks was truly ejected for repeatedly trying to poach a first class seat. I hope American Airlines ensured it had witnesses to back up its version of events before attacking Banks publicly...