A couple from Kelowna, B.C., who were escorted off their flight from Toronto in August have filed a lawsuit against Swoop Airlines and two of its employees, alleging racial discrimination and defamation.
Andre Henry and Jhody Batiste, who are Black, claimed they’re “living a nightmare of an embarrassment” after being removed from the plane over a minor seating dispute.
Batiste said she’s had to seek counselling, because the psychological impact of the incident has been so great.
“I felt embarrassed and shame. I felt like someone was slowly taking off my clothes,” said Batiste.
The next time she travelled by plane, she said, she felt like everyone was looking at her as if she’d done something wrong.
The lawsuit, filed this month, reads “the plaintiffs felt like criminals.”
“As a direct … result of the defendants’ actions, the plaintiffs have experienced shame, humiliation, embarrassment, judgment, racial discrimination, disgrace and helplessness.”
None of the defendants have responded to the claim.
Henry and Batiste were flying home to Kelowna from Toronto on Aug. 10 when Batiste asked another passenger to switch seats so she could sit next to Henry. The other passenger, who was white, agreed and swapped with Batiste.
The claim said a flight attendant, identified as “Hannah,” told Batiste she needed to be in her assigned seat for take-off and could switch once they were in the air. She said she would be charging Batiste for switching seats early.
“Hannah focused her anger on Batiste without having any conversation with the male passenger, who agreed to switch seats,” the lawsuit said.
The other passenger told Hannah he had agreed to make the change.
The dispute between Batiste and Hannah continued when Hannah told Batiste, who was feeling cold, to remove a blanket from her legs until after take-off.
Batiste did, but claimed the flight crew supervisor then asked her to get off the plane.
“Batiste asked the supervisor why she and Henry were being asked to leave the aircraft … [but] were not provided with an answer,” the lawsuit said.
Peel Police officers removed Batiste and Henry from the plane and escorted them through Toronto Pearson International Airport. The claim said the passenger who switched with Batiste was allowed to stay.
Henry and Batiste bought two new tickets home for $2,000. Swoop later apologized and reimbursed the couple, but the lawsuit said they’re still liable for the actions of their flight attendant and pilot.
“That was it,” Batiste said.
“People cannot be treated like that,” she added. “These big corporations need to take more responsibility.”
The lawsuit said Hannah and the plane’s pilot, identified as “Roberts,” lied about the incident afterward.
Hannah allegedly said Batiste made her feel uncomfortable, refused to follow orders and impeded the takeoff of the aircraft, according to the claim.
The lawsuit also said Hannah “willfully and intentionally” failed to correct the false information that she gave to her superiors at the airline.
Roberts was accused of posting about the flight on Instagram to say Batiste was lying about her story and had “cursed out” the supervisor on the plane. He also allegedly said Batiste was “playing the race card.”
Henry and Batiste are seeking damages for “malicious, high-handed, callous and arrogant conduct” that showed “a wanton and flagrant disregard” for their rights.
“Such conduct warrants an award of punitive, aggravated and exemplary damages to ensure that the defendants are punished appropriately for their conduct,” the lawsuit read.