A black woman from Edmonton, Canada, says that she was treated like an animal and removed from an Air Canada flight from Halifax because they thought she had a contagious disease. But according to Jeanne Lehman, after she received medication for the shingles she’d been diagnosed with days before, her doctor said she wasn’t contagious.
Lehman was diagnosed with shingles April 19, and even though she was on medication, when her flight came on April 22, her rash wasn’t healed and her eyes were swollen. Lehman said she asked the flight attendant for a window seat, and that’s when things went downhill.
“She said to me, ‘You’re contagious.’ She was practically screaming it in front of everyone,” Lehman told The Insider. “I told her, ‘But I am not contagious! And even if I was, this is not the way to say it. Please don’t say this in front of everyone.’”
Lehman said that no one would talk to her or listen to her try to explain that she wasn’t contagious. Eventually the flight was canceled and everyone was rebooked and put up in a hotel for the night.
“I was treated like an animal,” Lehman said. “When I asked the flight attendant why she was pulling me out of the plane, she didn’t answer me. She didn’t even look at me.”
The next day, Lehman went back to the original doctor who diagnosed her, and received a note saying that she was not contagious and was cleared to fly.
“I could’ve told them that I already went to see the doctor,” she said. “I could’ve even told them which medication they gave me. But no one talked to me, and no one listened to me.”
Lehman says that race played a role in the way she was treated and it’s a case of systemic racism.
“The flight attendant wouldn’t have done this to a white woman,” she said. “She wouldn’t have said it so loudly in front of everyone. There is something about a woman like me that makes them think they can say that without consequence.”
But the issues didn’t stop there. After she was cleared to fly and given an upgrade by Air Canada and a hotel room, the next day she experienced the same issue during a layover in Toronto. She had problems while trying to board the flight, even though her clearance was readily available. And once again she had to show them proof.
In a statement to CBC, Air Canada said that its passengers’ health and safety is the airline’s priority.
“For privacy reasons we cannot provide details about individual customers, but we can confirm that once the passenger received medical clearance she was able to travel. Our priority is always the health and safety of our customers and employees, so we acted out of an abundance of caution. Regrettably, the situation resulted in inconvenience for some customers and we will be dealing with them directly.”
Lehman says that she’s never received an apology from the airline for the treatment she received, and says that people need to address the fact that systemic racism plays a role in how black people are treated on a daily basis.
“It’s not enough to say, ‘I can’t be racist, I have friends who are black,’” she said. “No, we need to recognize that racism is everywhere. We need to educate people. I love Canada, and I know that systemic racism is not one of our values. We need to fix this if we don’t want our country to be spoiled.”