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American Airlines has apologized to an African-American woman after a flight attendant asked her to deplane and cover up with a blanket, or she wouldn’t be allowed back on the flight.
Tisha Rowe, a family physician based in Houston, was boarding a flight from Kingston, Jamaica, to Miami on June 30 before a flight attendant noticed her outfit: a strapless romper that exposed her arms and thighs. But Rowe said her clothes weren’t the only problem — and that race factored into the decision to make her step off the plane to talk to an airline employee.
“I've seen white women with much shorter shorts board a plane without a blink of an eye,” she tweeted. “I guess if it's a ‘nice ass’ vs a @Serena Booty it's okay …"
“Here is what i was wearing when @AmericanAir asked me to deplane for a talk. At which point I was asked to “cover up”. When defending my outfit I was threatened with not getting back on the flight unless I walked down the aisle wrapped in a blanket. #notsofriendlyskies
“So #AmericanAirlines just told me I couldn’t board the flight without putting a jacket over my ASSETS. My shorts covered EVERYTHING but apparently was too distracting to enter the plane,” she continued in another tweet.
Rowe, who was traveling with her 8-year-old son, eventually agreed to cover herself as she walked down the aisle. Once they reached their seat, her son, in tears, took the blanket to cover his face, according to Rowe’s lawyer. She’s now considering filing a lawsuit against the airline.
American Airlines apologized Tuesday. “We apologize to Dr. Rowe and her son for their experience, and have fully refunded their travel. We are proud to serve customers of all backgrounds,” spokesperson Shannon Gilson said in a statement.
Rowe, however, isn’t convinced the decision wasn’t based in racism.
“Had they seen that same issue in a woman who was not a woman of color, they would not have felt empowered to take me off the plane,” Rowe told the New York Times. “In pop culture, especially black women with a body like mine, they’re often portrayed as video vixens. So I’ve had to deal with those stereotypes my whole life,” she went on.
American Airlines made anti-racism training mandatory for employees in October 2017 after the NAACP issued a travel advisory against the company over its mistreatment of passengers of color. In one incident, a black woman was removed from her flight from New York to Miami after a pilot overheard her complain about a change to her seat assignment without her knowledge.
But the NAACP lifted the travel advisory in July 2018 and said the airline had made “substantial” progress.
Cover image from Tisha Rowe's Twitter account.