A Black Texas man booted from an American Airlines flight after he refused to switch first-class seats due to his pet-hair allergy has filed a lawsuit against the airline.
Dana Holcomb, son of the late Bishop Nathaniel Holcomb, claimed in the lawsuit the airline racially discriminated against him on April 14 when he was removed from a flight in Phoenix, Holcomb’s attorney, Reginald McKamie Sr. told reporters Wednesday during a press conference.
“To be honest, it made me feel that I was less than a dog,” Holcomb said.
He was headed back to his hometown of Killeen, Texas, after his 53rd birthday celebration in Las Vegas when the Austin-bound flight he was on stopped in Phoenix to pick up new passengers.
“I sat on the seat and there was a young lady sitting next to me who had a pet with her, a medium-sized dog in her lap,” Holcomb told Central Texas News Now. “As I sat there for a few minutes my eyes, my face everything began to fluster, so she looked over at me and she asked me if I was allergic to dogs.”
Holcomb said he told the woman he was and she tried to find a new seat.
But when no first-class passengers would switch, the captain and the flight attendant tried to get Holcomb to move to a seat in the main cabin, Holcomb told reporters.
“He then began to get really irate because he was insisting that I go to that seat,” Holcomb said.
After nearly 40 minutes, a first-class passenger agreed to switch seats with the woman and service animal, but Holcomb was instead asked to get off the plane, he told Central Texas News Now.
American Airlines security was called and escorted Holcomb out of the airport.
“They left with my medication, they didn’t even have the time to get my bags off the plane,” Holcomb said.
Curtis Blessing, an American Airlines spokesman, said in a statement Central Texas News Now obtained that the passenger was removed “after causing a confrontation with crew members regarding an emotional support animal that was seated next to them prior to takeoff.”
“After informing flight attendants of a pet allergy, the passenger was offered an alternative seat in the first-class cabin further away from the emotional support animal but declined and became confrontational,” Blessing said. “They were then offered a seat in main cabin to provide additional separation and were offered a refund for the difference in their first-class fare but also declined and remained confrontational.”
The airline said the passenger then “was asked to leave the aircraft but again refused to comply with crew member instructions which led to the aircraft being partially deplaned before they exited.”
“The unused portion of the passenger’s ticket (connection from Phoenix to Austin) will be refunded,” Blessing said.
He added that American Airlines is required under federal regulations to transport service and support animals.
“American makes every effort to accommodate all passengers, including those traveling with and seated near service or support animals,” he said. “In the case of an allergy, we work to re-seat a passenger further away from the service or support animal.
“If the customer is still not comfortable flying, we will re-book them on the next available flight to their destination.”