Remember how I said I owed Jet Blue Airways a letter of righteous indignation? Here at long last it is. To protect the privacy of the passengers involved, I've changed their names. Everything else is the same as I sent to Jet Blue.
30 April 2007
Jet Blue Airways Corporation
11829 Queens Blvd.
Flushing, NY 11375
Dear Sir or Madam,
On March 30, 2007, I was a passenger on the 11:05 a.m. Jet Blue flight #263 from Sacramento to Long Beach. Shortly after boarding the flight with my 18-month-old son, I chatted with the gentleman across the aisle from me. This man, Tom Rossiter, was one of the nicest people I have met in a long time. He not only assisted me with my toddler when the youngster acted up, but also talked to me about his experiences as a father, giving me tips, for example, on what kind of shoes to buy now that my son was learning to run. Our conversation was entirely pleasant—so much so that we didn’t notice that the safety demonstration had begun. We weren’t the only ones talking—everyone in our area of the plane was in a boisterous mood because many people were headed out on a cruise that afternoon. That’s why we didn’t notice the safety demonstration had begun.
One of the flight attendants giving the demonstration was one row behind us, and she turned around and asked us to keep quiet during the presentation. No problem. We quieted down. Those who were talking were conversing in whispers, but as tends to happen, everyone’s voices soon returned to full volume. The attendant again reminded us to be quiet, turning her attention particularly on Mr. Rossiter, who is a very tall man with a voice that carries. Mr. Rossiter apologized to her for his initial interruption of her presentation, saying that he hadn’t noticed she was there (for the record, neither had I) because she was standing behind us. (Nor could I see the flight attendant giving the presentation at the front of the plane—we were at a particularly poor vantage point for viewing the safety demonstration.)
Following the presentation, another flight attendant approached us. She smiled very briefly at my son and then turned and became very serious and asked Mr. Rossiter, “Do we have a problem?” Mr. Rossiter indicated that he didn’t feel there was any kind of problem. She persisted, saying that he had given the presenting flight attendant a hard time. He apologized again, but emphasized he didn’t feel that was the case. Again she pressed him: “Do we have a problem?” At that point, he held up two fingers in a peace sign. “What does that mean?” she asked. “What does that mean? It means peace,” he explained. “Peace?” she asked. “Peace?! I’m not your homegirl.” (Both Mr. Rossiter and the flight attendant appeared to be African American.) At this point, the good-natured Mr. Rossiter said, “No shit, you’re not my homegirl.” Other people chimed in at this point, saying that she wasn’t being fair to Mr. Rossiter. The attendant turned on her heel and walked away.
Conversation in our section of the plane immediately turned to the flight attendant’s attitude. The consensus was that Mr. Rossiter had done nothing wrong and that the flight attendant had a poor attitude. The other passengers were indignant.
Shortly thereafter, the plane’s engines powered down, and we soon learned that Mr. Rossiter and his partner, Ms. Smithson, were to be escorted from the plane. We all felt that was ridiculous, so we gave Mr. Rossiter our contact information so that we might serve as witnesses. We were happy to oblige.
It should be noted that when Mr. Rossiter was approached by Jet Blue officials, he at first asked what would happen if he refused to leave his seat. When the Jet Blue official persisted and told him that he needed to leave with them at that moment, he immediately stood, gathered his carry-on luggage, and apologized to the other passengers for any inconvenience he may inadvertently have caused.
From what I saw, a Jet Blue employee overreacted to a situation that was a result of a generally festive atmosphere on the plane. As a tall, large Black man who held his ground in the face of questioning, Mr. Rossiter may have been perceived as some kind of threat by the flight attendants. That’s racial profiling. (I should point out that I am a scholar of race and gender in the U.S., and that I don’t use such terms lightly.) Despite the fact that the flight attendant also appeared to be Black, I feel there was racism at play in removing Mr. Rossiter from the plane. At any rate, it looked suspicious when Jet Blue escorted the only African-American man off the plane.
You are welcome to contact me for more information or for clarification. During the day, I may be reached at (555) 755-5555; during the evenings, I am available at (555) 555-5555.
I’m both pasting this letter into an e-mail sent to Ms. Smithson and attaching a PDF version of the letter.
I wish Mr. Rossiter and Ms. Smithson all the best. They were treated unjustly by Jet Blue.