Passengers on an EasyJet flight from London Gatwick Airport to Malaga in Spain protested to prevent two Black men from being removed from the flight last week.
The men were reportedly going to be removed for “huffing at a member of the crew” when asked to put shoes on prior to takeoff. Footage of the encounter was shared to Twitter by 28-year-old Luke Gayle, who was on board at the time, and shows other passengers on the flight telling the men to sit back down as flight crew tried to usher them off the jet.
An argument broke out during the flight’s taxi at a London airport on Aug. 5 when witnesses said the flight crew overreacted after the men “huffed” when instructed to put on their shoes because they were sitting near an emergency exit.
The plane turned around on the runway and a female flight attendant contacted police, saying there where two “disobedient passengers” aboard the aircraft. In response, four armed Sussex officers arrived, offboarded the men’s luggage and confiscated their passports.
But passengers verbally objected to the removal of the two men.
“No, no, no, don’t do that,” a woman said. “Don’t get off, sit down. Don’t get off.”
Gayle said to the Daily Mail about the officers, “They said they were there to prevent a breach of the peace and escort two men off the plane, but as soon as the man was asked to leave he attempted to and everyone said, ‘No, sit back down again.’”
A Black man sat down and a flight attendant walked away from him down the aisle.
In another clip, an officer shrugged at another passenger and said, “There’s no need for me to interfere because there’s no problem.”
Ultimately, the men were permitted to stay on the plane and the captain announced that another flight crew would be replacing the one currently aboard the aircraft.
Gayle said, “My faith was then restored in humanity, as the whole flight said it was unacceptable.”
EasyJet said the crew was replaced because they had exceeded their working hours, not because of the encounter with the two men. The flight took off toward Spain three hours after its scheduled departure time.
Speaking to the Daily Mail, Gayle suggested unconscious bias may have been at play.
“I am a racial justice ambassador, and I kind of know how unconscious racial bias works. Obviously it’s very difficult in these situations to say it was a racial issue, it’s difficult to prove that, however, was there some kind of unconscious bias there?” he said.
“Because it seems so dramatic to call the police and have a plane with 160-odd passengers turn around and be delayed for someone huffing at them. I mean, surely, as cabin crew you are trained on how to deal with those situations effectively.”
In a statement to the Daily Mail, a spokesperson for EasyJet dismissed allegations of racial bias. “EasyJet does not discriminate against any individual. Safety is our highest priority and there is nothing to suggest that discrimination played any part in the issue onboard,” the statement said. The airline is reviewing customer complaints about the incident.
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