Yesterday I took a US Airways flight from Raleigh-Durham to Washington, DC to drive some Hellcats. So far so good, right? Across the aisle from me was a woman, from Boston, who was feeling a bit queasy. She asked the flight attendant for some club soda. They responded by trying to kick her off the plane. Any idea why?
If we're absolutely being honest, there were two very simple reasons why: the woman was black, and had an African accent. In the popular culture of panic, those two factors seem to be enough to turn an entire plane full of people around and return to the gate to attempt to kick a paying traveller off a plane.
Though the flight attendants that surrounded the woman and asked her to leave the plane (and threatened to call the airport police if she wouldn't get off the plane) never once used the word, it's clear that they were afraid the woman had ebola. It was pretty absurd listening to them dance around saying what they were thinking, instead talking about their "health concerns." Come on. If you're going to be a paranoid, own it.
Let's just be clear about some things about this woman: she was 34, felt she quite possibly could be pregnant, and lived in Boston. She'd been to Nigeria back at the beginning of the year, but came back in fine health. She felt a little nauseated; that's it. Her eyes weren't bleeding, she wasn't spraying revolting fluids out of anything, she was simply a young woman trying to get home.
I was sitting next to a woman who worked at the UNC School of Public Health, who was traveling on the plane with a bunch of other colleagues who knew something about diseases and epidemics. And, interestingly, one of them, an older white man, mentioned he'd been to Liberia recently, and was technically much more of a potential ebola risk than the woman. Nobody asked him to leave the plane.
It was absolutely inane. This poor woman was reduced nearly to tears because she was nauseous and had the wrong accent. That's it. They had zero evidence of her medical history, and absolutely no rational reason to assume she was in any way a danger. And yet they had flight attendants going back and forth to her seat, and had the plane return to the gate in an effort to get her to leave. It wasn't until a bunch of us other passengers around her, including several of the public health workers, got together to tell the attendants that we were just fine with the woman staying, that they finally backed down.
It's incredible that a paying customer can be just kicked off a flight for the flimsiest of reasons. I understand the disease is scary and airline workers can hypothetically be at greater risk of exposure, but come on. This is a woman from Boston, in North Carolina, going back to Boston. There's been no ebola cases reported at any of those locations. People get nauseous on planes. People have African accents. We've got to get a grip.