Here’s a broader question than the specific case on hand: is it reasonable for airline staff to ask you if you are in the correct line or flying first class?
R&B Singer Lyfe Jennings Questioned By American Airlines – When Is This Appropriate?
I started flying significantly as a teenager and in those early years, I was asked often if I was in the correct line and on several occasions, told I was in the wrong line. I’ll never forget one time my (younger) brother and I were flying from Los Angeles to Chicago in first class and the United check-in agent insisted we were in the the line and that this line was only for first class passengers. She could not believe that we were traveling in first class, even after we checked in.
As I’ve gotten older, that rarely happens. There have been many times I’ve been asked if I am Premier or first class when checking in for a flight, but more often than not nothing is said at all. Same at the gate when boarding.
Despite the many shapes, sizes, and colors of the American traveler, it seems I still fit a stereotype of a first class traveler and I recognize that “privilege” as such.
R&B singer Lyfe Jennings recently complained on social media that he had been singled out three times by American Airlines, who wondered whether he was in the right line and really flying first class. Hardly a kid, he’s 43-years-old and claims it only happened to him because he was black.
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I’m not going to dismiss that, though perhaps it was less so his skin color and more the way he dressed? His full outfit is not clear, though it appears to be quite casual. There was one time when I showed up at the Lufthansa First Class Terminal in gym clothes and unshaven with a friend looking equally grungy. We got a lot of stares like we did not belong (and more stares after I showered, shaved, and put on nicer clothes; a metamorphosis) and were immediately asked for our passports so they could verify we did indeed belong.
I think we can all agree that asking someone whether they are in the right line on the basis of skin color is unacceptable. But how about based upon dress? Frankly, the way in which premium cabin travelers dress down these days, I simply would not ask at all in the boarding line. Why expose yourself to charges of racism that go viral on social media? That said, I’ve seen many white people questioned as well when wearing sweat pants and trying to board with first class.
The computer will beep if you are not boarding with the correct group and most agents will scold you and send you to the back of the line. That I see happening quite a bit. But better that than profiling people you believe do not fit and proactively talking to them.
As for the threats in this video above, I wish there was more context. Some gate agents are just plain mean and seemingly looking to pick a fight. Was Jennings cursing like was in the video? Was he making threats? It would be helpful to have a bit more context, though I know full well airline employees can sometimes be nasty even when you are polite…
Obviously, I cannot fully understand what it means to be black in America. I don’t blame Jennings for being upset if all the white passengers were not asked if they belonged in the first class line while he was. That’s unacceptable. But I bet clothing played a role in this situation, as frustrating as that still is.
If I were American Airlines, I’d simply stop asking people if they are in correct boarding lane. If the computer beeps, send them on a the “walk of shame” to the back of the line. But asking if someone is in the correct lane leads to immediate offense when a passenger feels (or is) wrongly profiled for not belonging.
image: lyfejennings / Instagram