Spirit Airlines Responds to a Passenger’s Claim of Racism

A Spirit Airlines jet takes off from Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport Feb. 21, 2013, in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.  
A Spirit Airlines jet takes off from Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport Feb. 21, 2013, in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.  

Editor's note: In a Grapevine blog earlier today, we recounted the experience of a passenger on board Spirit Airlines, who claimed to have seen an African-American passenger denied a seat and sent to the back of the plane when a white man refused to move. Spirit Airlines contacted us about the incident and was insistent that the observing passenger misunderstood what she had witnessed. Here is Spirit Airlines' version of events. The Root has changed the names of the passengers involved.

The flight in question, Spirit No. 971, began in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Its first stop was in Dallas/Fort Worth. The first gentleman in question was a Mr. Smith (which your story refers to as the white man), who was seated in seat 3E (a middle seat) from Fort Lauderdale. He remained on the plane when it landed in Dallas as he was flying on to Phoenix.
When the Phoenix-bound passengers in Dallas/Fort Worth boarded the plane, another gentlemen, Mr. Jones (your article refers to him as black), had a boarding pass that also said he was seated in 3E, but Mr. Smith was already in the seat. Duplicate seats on airlines are rare but occasionally happen. Both men thought they were seated in 3E.
Mr. Jones did the right thing and asked for a flight attendant to resolve the situation. Our flight attendant spoke with both gentlemen and confirmed the duplicate seat assignment.  Our flight attendant was able to look at the available seats on the plane and noticed there was an entire row that would not be used on the flight. She offered Mr. Jones the entire row, which he gladly accepted over the middle seat. Mr. Jones was pleased with how the situation was handled.
Everything was fine until an uninvolved third person started saying that it was racist to move a black man to the back of the plane and let the white man keep the seat. Our flight attendants tried to explain the situation to the woman, but she was extremely angry and wasn't interested in the facts of the situation. She continued to be disruptive.

So we have a woman who thought she witnessed racist treatment of another customer, when in fact the customer in question was very pleased with the result.

In an interview with The Root, Samantha Bellach recounted her version of the story.

Bellach was traveling from Dallas to Phoenix when she says she came across a black male passenger who had purchased an upgraded ticket that would allow him to sit in the front of the plane. According to Bellach, when the passenger approached his assigned seat, there was already a white man sitting in the seat, next to another white traveling companion.


When the unnamed black passenger informed the white man that he was sitting in the wrong seat, the passenger scoffed at him, Bellach says. At that point, according to her account, the black man told the white passenger that he would be back and then walked toward the flight attendant, presumably to resolve the issue.

The black man returned with a white female attendant, Bellach says. But, she told The Root, the attendant sided with the white passenger.

Then, Bellach says, the flight attendant asked the black passenger to produce his boarding pass, which showed the correct seat, but when she asked the white passengers to produce theirs, they said they'd misplaced the passes. According to her account, the flight attendant then turned to the black man and said, "Sir, please go to the back of the plane."

"'Oh, he'll get his own row in the back of the plane. He's not even upset; I don't even get why this is such a big deal,'" Bellach says the flight attendant stated.  


"Wow. What era are we in right now? This is bulls—t," Bellach says she replied.

At this point, Bellach says, the men who were not in their correct seats finally decided to do the right thing, but not before saying, "We never said we weren't going to move." 


Eventually the black man was able to get his correct seat, but Bellach says she can't comprehend why the resolution was so difficult.

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