Was it blatant racism or a simple misunderstanding that prevented two African American men from traveling in the first class cabin of U.S. Airways while wearing hoodies and jeans?
Two black passengers, Miles and MacCraig Warren, are suing U.S. Airways for racial discrimination after an airline gate agent refused to allow them to travel in first class wearing hoodies and jeans.
The Warrens, who are brothers, were flying home from Denver to Los Angeles after a relative’s funeral last year when they were told that their attire was too casual, asked to remove their baseball caps, and change into button-down shirts, slacks and nicer shoes.
But here’s the catch: When the Warrens boarded the plane, they saw two passengers in first class – a white passenger, Michael Heffernan, and a Filipino passenger, Edward DeLeon, — wearing hoodies and jeans, the same clothing the Warrens were told not they couldn’t wear.
“They were told that this was the policy if you wanted to ride in first class,” lawyer Rodney Diggs told the New York Daily News. “They were very upset when they saw the other two gentlemen sitting right across from them. This is definitely racial discrimination and a violation of their civil rights.”
The Warrens filed a lawsuit in federal court last week, seeking punitive damages for discrimination and emotional distress. They called the experience “humiliating.”
“We welcome customers of all ethnicities and backgrounds and do not tolerate discrimination of any kind. We take these allegations seriously,” U.S. Airways said in a statement. “Employees are aware of the travel policy and required to understand the expectations when utilizing their pass privileges.”
U.S. Airways will likely make the case that the Warrens were traveling on a discounted “buddy pass” and subject to restricted dress codes for “buddy pass” travelers. Heffernan and DeLeon were full-fare paying passengers and, therefore, were not restricted to a dress code.
So why are there separate first-class travel policies for “buddy pass” passengers and full-fare paying passengers? Why can’t “buddy pass” passengers travel in casual attire? Is this a case of racial discriminaton? Or is it just a flawed U.S. Airways travel policy?
Diggs, meanwhile, said his clients were never informed that different policies applied to reduced fare and regular fare passengers.
“If this is a policy, it has to be practiced at all times and not just selectively implemented when they want it to be implemented,” said Diggs.
Still, the person who sold the Warrens the “buddy passes” — presumably a U.S. Airways employee — should have explained the dress code rules to the Warrens before they boarded the plane.
Several airline employees posted comments on ConsumerAffairs.com, a mix of arguments.