Lawsuit: American Airlines Kicked Black Man Off Plane So Dog Could Fly First Class

Earlier this year, Dana Holcomb, of Killeen Texas, was flying home from his birthday celebration in Las Vegas. He was flying first class and had a connecting flight in Phoenix.

While waiting for his flight from Phoenix to Austin to take off, Holcomb, who is allergic to dogs, began showing allergy symptoms due to the medium-sized emotional support dog that was on the lap of the woman seated next to him.

“As I sat there for a few minutes my eyes, my face, everything began to fluster, so she looked over at me and she asked me if I was allergic to dogs,” he said in an interview.

He admitted that he was, and the kind woman attempted to find another seat but the request couldn’t be accommodated. A flight attendant and pilot then became involved in the conversation and told Mr. Holcomb, who is African-American, to move to a seat in the back of the plane.

Holcomb asked why he had to move to the back, to which he was told, “you’re going to go to the rear of the plane or get off the plane,” said Mr. Holcomb’s attorney, Reginald McKamie.

Employees claim Holcomb became confrontational, which resulted in his being removed from the plane. Holcomb says he was not confrontational, and according to his lawsuit, two passengers have made sworn statements that support his claim.

The plane left shortly thereafter, still holding Holcomb’s luggage, which included his medication. He was then forced to find his own way home.

McKamie added: “What American Airlines is doing is discrimination. They have repeatedly humiliated African-American citizens by throwing them off the plane, leaving them with no way home, no hotel, just throwing them off the plane,”

In response, American Airlines said, “We are proud to serve customers of all backgrounds and are committed to providing a positive, safe travel experience for everyone who flies with us.

Federal regulations require American Airlines to transport service and support animals. American makes every effort to accommodate all passengers, including those traveling with and seated near service or support animals. In the case of an allergy, we work to re-seat a passenger further away from the service or support animal. If the customer is still not comfortable flying, we will re-book them on the next available flight to their destination”

Frankly, I think asking any person of color to go to the back of any vehicle, unless with tones of 100% kindness, will appear rather, shall we say, “Rosa Parksesque,” whether intentional or not. Unfortunately, American Airlines has more than one instance of alleged racism under its corporate belt:

  • In July 2019, an American Airlines flight attendant was caught on camera threatening to make Mexican passengers’ experience in customs “very difficult” when they landed in the U.S. from Mexico.
  • In January 2019, a Jewish couple and their daughter were kicked off an American Airlines flight after staff told them other passengers had been complaining the family had body odor, which led to one male staff member asking them if they didn’t shower for “religious reasons.”
  • In September 2018, rapper Wale, who is African-American, reported that two of its employees questioned whether he belonged in first class on an American Airlines flight.
  • In 2017, Bloomberg reported that American Airlines lead U.S. carriers in passenger complaints of racism.
  • In October 2017, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) issued a travel advisory stating that African American passengers could face “unsafe” conditions when traveling on American. They cited four specific incidents of recent racial discrimination.

The NAACP travel advisory was lifted nine months after it began, after determining that the airline had made “substantial” progress in addressing concerns of mistreatment of African American passengers. Among other things, the airline launched a company-wide training course on implicit bias.

Not that I believe every single incident that’s claimed to smack of racism is automatically due to discrimination 100% of the time, but just to be on the safe side, perhaps American Airlines’ employees need a refresher training course?

** Many thanks to Barb S., who made us aware of this topic

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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary

5 thoughts on “Lawsuit: American Airlines Kicked Black Man Off Plane So Dog Could Fly First Class”

  1. Having so much trouble with emotional support animals lately. I KNOW there are some people who truly need them, but I also know that there are people who abuse the policy, like all policies, and make others suffer for it. I applaud the woman for volunteering to move. Yesterday saw 2 dogs in a dog stroller being fed samples and the first slices of deli meat at the deli counter in BJ’s. REALLY bothered me. Sorry…just cranky, I guess.

  2. So it wouldn’t be racist to have a policy that only white people can be required to change seats, go to the back or be bumped? That’s the suggestion here and, if implemented, would probably fall foul of a myriad of laws.

    1. I fully agree with OR97. I am severely allergic to cats, why should I have to move from my paid seat because of some “entitled” person and their “support” cat? This whole “emotional support” animal thing is such B.S. Lets go back to the airlines charging for “in cabin” animals. We already can’t have peanuts on a plane because of people with nut allergies, what is the real difference? I happen to like my “emotional support” peanuts when I fly.

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