American Airlines accused of racism after downgrading woman from first-class

An American Airlines passenger has accused the carrier of racism after relocating her to the back of the plane — and allowing her traveling companion, a white woman, to remain in first-class.

But the legacy carrier tells Fox News that race had nothing to do with it, and chalked up the incident to “agent error.”

On May 2, Rane Baldwin and her friend, Janet Novack, were planning to fly first-class from Louisville, Ky., to Charlotte, N.C., after upgrading their tickets at an earlier date. However, upon arriving at the terminal, Baldwin says a ticketing agent scanned her boarding pass and handed her a ticket with a different seating assignment than she expected — one much further to the rear of the plane.


According to Baldwin, who spoke with The Root, the agent initially made no mention of the switch. It was only after she spoke up, Baldwin alleges, that the agent explained the first-class section was smaller than anticipated, and there wasn’t room for her up front.

After boarding the plane, Baldwin continued to push for answers from the flight attendants, but claims she was ignored.

“When I went back to the front to ask what was happening, she [a flight attendant] said that the first-class cabin was full and that there was nothing she could do,” said Baldwin.

Meanwhile, Novack, Baldwin's white flying companion, claimed on Twitter that she asked for the exact same information, but got more “thorough answers” from the flight attendants.

Eventually, the two friends settled into a row of empty seats near the front of the plane — though not in first-class — before takeoff.


But according to Baldwin and Novack, the harassment didn’t end there. A flight attendant soon came around to check their seatbelts, and told Novack that since there were so many open seats, she could “spread out” if she wanted more space.

“He did not say this to anyone else,” Baldwin said.

Following the incident, Baldwin and Novack aired their grievances with the airline individually — Baldwin in a formal complaint letter, and Novack on Twitter.

“I’ve never felt so unimportant my entire life,” Baldwin told The Root. “This flight was the most blatantly racist thing that’s ever happened to me. It was baffling and hurtful that the crew seemed completely aware of what they were doing and just didn’t care.”


A spokesman for American Airlines tells Fox News that the company has reached out to apologize. He also said the entire ordeal was due to an “agent error,” and that the airline is working with this person to prevent further incidents.

American Airlines further explained that the women were never charged for their upgrade in the first place, and were booked in first-class as a courtesy after their earlier flight had been canceled. The reason Baldwin was downgraded, according to the spokesperson, is simply because Novack’s upgrade was processed into the computer first. Had it been the other way around, Baldwin’s seat would have remained in first-class.