Today we look at the story of a racist airline passenger, outraged at having to sit next to a passenger of another race. After the ensuing argument, the person of color is moved to first class to accommodate the racist. Is this story true or false?
It’s a great story, but there’s no evidence it ever really happened. Such allegorical stories appear online and are presented as historic events. Knee-jerk reactions to such stories lead to sharing without looking for the facts.
Let’s take a look at the most recent incarnation and compare it with one from the late 1990’s:
This happened on TAM airlines.
A 50-something year old white woman arrived at her seat and saw that the passenger next to her was a black man. Visibly furious, she called the air hostess.
“What’s the problem, ma?” the hostess asked her
“Can’t you see?” the lady said – “I was given a seat next to a black man. I can’t seat here next to him. You have to change my seat”
– “Please, calm down, ma” – said the hostess
“Unfortunately, all the seats are occupied, but I’m still going to check if we have any.”
The hostess left and returned some minutes later.
“Madam, as I told you, there isn’t any empty seat in this class- economy class.
But I spoke to the captain and he confirmed that there isn’t any empty seats in the economy class. We only have seats in the first class.”
And before the woman said anything, the hostess continued
“Look, it is unusual for our company to allow a passenger from the economy class change to the first class.
However, given the circumstances, the commandant thinks that it would be a scandal to make a passenger travel sat next to an unpleasant person.”
And turning to the black man, the hostess said:
“Which means, Sir, if you would be so nice to pack your handbag, we have reserved you a seat in the first class…”
And all the passengers nearby, who were shocked to see the scene started applauding, some standing on their feet.”
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Below is a version which circulated via email in the late 1990’s. Notice there are some minor differences from the 2012 version.
On a British Airways flight from Johannesburg, a middle-aged, well-off white South African Lady has found herself sitting next to a black man. She called the cabin crew attendant over to complain about her seating.
“What seems to be the problem Madam?” asked the attendant.
“Can’t you see?” she said ” You’ve sat me next to a kaffir. I can’t possibly sit next to this disgusting human. Find me another seat!”
“Please calm down Madam.” the stewardess relied. “The flight is very full today, but I’ll tell you what I’ll do-I’ll go and check to see if we have any seats available in club or first class.” The woman cocks a snooty look at the outraged black man beside her (not to mention many of the surrounding passengers). A few minutes later the stewardess returns with the good news, which she delivers to the lady, who cannot help but look at the people around her with a smug and self satisfied grin: “Madam, unfortunately, as I suspected, economy is full. I’ve spoken to the cabin services director, and club is also full. However, we do have one seat in first class.” Before the lady has a chance to answer, the stewardess continues … “It is most extraordinary to make this kind of upgrade, however, and I have had to get special permission from the captain. But, given the circumstances, the captain felt that it was outrageous that someone be forced to sit next to such an obnoxious person.” With which, she turned to the black man sitting next to the woman, and said: “So if you’d like to get your things, sir, I have your seat ready for you…” At which point, apparently the surrounding passengers stood and gave a standing ovation while the black guy walks up to the front of the plane.
.. people will forget what you said …. .. people will forget what you did …. .. but people will never forget how you made them feel.
There have been other varieties, using religion of sexual preference in place of race. It’s likely that the origin of the tale, which goes back perhaps decades, was to be a moral story and not told as fact. What tends to happen is that the “moral of the story” disclaimer gets replaced with “this really happened.”