Dr. Tisha Rowe was about to fly from Jamaica to Miami when a flight attendant briefly removed her from the plane because of her romper, she said.
ImageDr. Tisha Rowe shared this selfie of the outfit she was wearing when she was asked to get off her June 30 flight.CreditCreditTisha Rowe
A Texas doctor says her race was a factor when she was briefly removed from a recent American Airlines flight and required to cover herself with a blanket before being allowed back on the plane.
Dr. Tisha Rowe, who identifies as African-American and Caribbean-American, posted a widely shared tweet about the episode, including a selfie of the romper she was wearing on the June 30 flight from Jamaica to Miami.
Dr. Rowe, 37, is a family physician in Houston and founded a telemedicine company in 2014. She said Tuesday that she was humiliated in front of her 8-year-old son, who had been traveling with her.
“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,” Dr. Rowe said. “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.”
American Airlines apologized and agreed to issue a refund to Dr. Rowe, according to Shannon Gilson, a spokeswoman.
“We were concerned about Dr. Rowe’s comments, and reached out to her and our team at the Kingston airport to gather more information about what occurred,” Ms. Gilson said. “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.”
American Airlines has grappled with discrimination complaints before.
In 2017, the N.A.A.C.P. took the unusual step of issuing a national travel advisory for the airline, warning that black travelers could be subject to “discriminatory” or “disrespectful” treatment. The group cited a series of episodes of black passengers being removed from flights or bumped from first class.
Last July, the N.A.A.C.P. lifted the travel advisory after the airline agreed to training for its 130,000 employees, as well as the adoption of a new discrimination complaint resolution process. American Airlines also agreed to do an inclusion gap and diversity analysis of the company.
The airline said Tuesday it was planning to hire a chief inclusion and diversity officer, and establish an office for “diversity, equity and inclusion.”
“Based on our engagement with the company, they have begun to make progress,” Derrick Johnson, president and chief executive of the N.A.A.C.P., said Tuesday of the airline’s past efforts.
Mr. Johnson said the N.A.A.C.P. wanted to get all the facts about what happened to Dr. Rowe.
“We are going to monitor to see the airline’s response,” Mr. Johnson said.
The day of the encounter, June 30, was a hot one: The temperature in Kingston, Jamaica, had a high of 94 degrees, and the high in Miami was 89 degrees, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Dr. Rowe said she was walking to her seat when a male flight attendant, whom she described as black, asked her to return to the front of the plane. Another flight attendant, who was also black, then spoke to her about her appearance while she stood on the jet bridge, Dr. Rowe said.
“She poses the question to me, ‘Do you have a jacket?’” Dr. Rowe said. “I said, ‘No, I do not.’ I’ve been given no explanation as to why I was taken off the plane. So finally she says, ‘You’re not boarding the plane dressed like that.’ Then they started to give me a lecture about how when I got on the plane, I better not make a scene or be loud.”
The airline’s conditions of carriage, which are posted on its website, make a brief reference to a dress code: “Dress appropriately; bare feet or offensive clothing aren’t allowed.”
Dr. Rowe said her son was in tears when they reached their seats and used one of the blankets given to her to cover his head. Since her first social media posts about the episode, Dr. Rowe said she had received photos from many other women of more revealing outfits they had worn on flights.
“We are policed for being black,” Dr. Rowe posted on Facebook during the flight. “I’ve seen white women with much shorter shorts board a plane without a blink of an eye. I guess if it’s a ‘nice ass’ vs. a Serena Booty it’s O.K.”
In 2017, United Airlines also faced criticism for barring two teenage girls from boarding a flight because of the leggings they were wearing.
Dr. Rowe’s lawyer, Geoffrey Berg, said she was considering litigation against American Airlines.
“They wanted credit for the apology and said, ‘This is not how we want our airline portrayed,’ which tells me they are prioritizing their image above their actions,” Mr. Berg said.
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