United Airlines accused of accommodating 'racist' passenger who didn't want to sit next to teen

A black 16-year-old from Jacksonville, Fla., has accused United Airlines of "accommodating" a racist passenger after he allegedly told staff that he didn't want to sit next to her. 

On Nov. 16, Taylor Richardson claimed on Twitter that a flight attendant moved the man to a different seat while they were on a flight from Denver to Jacksonville.

"So yesterday while flying from Denver to Jacksonville, I had my first encounter with a white man who didn’t want to sit next to me because I was black," Richardson tweeted. "Thank you @united for accommodating him. #flyingwhileblack"

The 16-year-old, who is a member of STEAM Squad — a collective of high-achieving teenage girls in science, technology, engineering, arts and math — immediately caught the attention of United, which, in turn, asked for more information. In response, Richardson made it clear that the attendant was also taken aback by the man's comment but made the decision to accommodate him in order to avoid causing a scene. 

"I would like to say upfront there wasn't any commotion," she tweeted back. "Your airline rep was not rude she was caught off guard by his comment and to not make a scene just moved him. I'm only 16 so I dare not disrespect an adult even when ignorant to the fact."

Still, Richardson's original tweet, which received nearly 400 comments, drew the ire of many Twitter users. 

"The attendant was rattled, but moving him was absolutely wrong. It gave credibility to his [harassment]," one person wrote. "It gave credibility to his [harassment]. She should have moved you to First Class if you were not already there. You were being [harassed] and United should have trained its attendants better."

"That's awful, if I'd been a passenger with you he'd have got an earful from me," another wrote. "I still find it crazy that there are people in this era who behave like this. Who were his influencers? His parents? School? Peers? Church? How and why is this still happening?"

In a statement to the Independent, United confirmed that it had reached out to the teenager following the incident. 

"United takes claims of discrimination very seriously," the statement read. "We immediately had an online chat with our customer when we heard about this issue and will reach out again to speak with her directly for additional information. We will also be speaking with our crew to better understand what happened."

Richardson also expressed sympathy for Black Eyed Peas founder Will.i.am, who, on Nov. 15, alleged that he was targeted by an "overly aggressive flight attendant" while on an Australian flight from Brisbane to Sydney. 

"Sending positive thoughts and prayers to @iamwill!" the 16-year-old tweeted at the rapper. "While he got a more aggressive encounter than I, I can only imagine how he feels. Not sure what's worse being loud or being discreet. Stay lifted sir! #flyingwhileblack"

In Will.i.am's case, the airline — Qantas Airways — stood by its employee and called the situation a "misunderstanding."

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