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American Airlines passenger alleges discrimination over use of first-class restroom

Pamela Hill-Veal says that while she and her family were flying first class on Feb. 10 from Chicago to Phoenix, an American Airlines flight attendant stopped her as she returned to her seat and accused her of slamming the restroom door.
Pamela Hill-Veal
Pamela Hill-Veal says that while she and her family were flying first class on Feb. 10 from Chicago to Phoenix, an American Airlines flight attendant stopped her as she returned to her seat and accused her of slamming the restroom door.

A Chicago woman is accusing American Airlines of racial discrimination after one of its flight attendants allegedly confronted her after she used the plane's first-class lavatory.

In a complaint sent to American Airlines and obtained by NPR, Pamela Hill-Veal, who is Black, said that while she and her family were flying first class on Feb. 10, from Chicago to Phoenix, one of the flight attendants stopped her as she returned to her seat and accused Hill-Veal of slamming the restroom door.

Following the remarks of the flight attendant (whose name and race were not identified in the complaint), Hill-Veal said she did not respond as she proceeded to walk back to her seat.

"The flight attendant stopped me as I was returning to my seat and told me I 'slammed the restroom door and I was not to do it again since passengers were sleeping on the plane,'" Hill-Veal said in an interview with NPR. She said she never slammed the door.

A while later on the flight, Hill-Veal — a retired circuit court judge in Illinois — said in the complaint that she used the same restroom in first class, as the same flight attendant stopped her again.

In a statement to NPR, American Airlines said the company has been in contact with Hill-Veal to learn more about her experience. "We strive to ensure that every customer has a positive travel experience, and we take all claims of discrimination very seriously," the airline said.

Hill-Veal told NPR that she vividly remembers the moment the flight attendant began to reprimand her.

"He began to berate me by pointing his finger at me towards my face and saying, 'I told you not to slam the door ... so from now on, you are to use the restroom in the back of the plane' while he pointed in the direction of the restroom in coach," she said.

Hill-Veal says that while she did not witness any passengers in first class complain about the restroom door, more attention was drawn to her after her hostile interaction with the flight attendant.

She said she believes the incident was racially motivated, noting that other passengers, who were white, used the same first-class restroom and were not told to use the one in the back of the plane.

The flight attendant "was pointing his finger at me and said again, 'I told you to stop slamming the door...,' " she said.

Hill-Veal says that about 30 minutes prior to landing, she used the restroom for a third time. Once she was leaving, the same flight attendant followed her to her seat and began to physically touch her and explain that she would be arrested upon the flight landing.

In the complaint, the former judge said the flight attendant told her she would be arrested because he "didn't like the way [she] talked to him," and accused Hill-Veal of hitting him.

"This was a complete fabrication as I told him that I never hit him," she added.

Hill-Veal says that since the incident, she hasn't been able to properly sleep given the trauma she experienced and the incident has left her feeling humiliated.

"I'm still uncomfortable about flying because I don't know what they're going to say that I did ... in an attempt to cover up for what they did during this particular time," Hill-Veal said.

Other discrimination complaints against American Airlines

American Airlines is no stranger to discrimination accusations. In 2023, the company was targeted after two separate incidents — one involving track star Sha'Carri Richardson and another with musician David Ryan Harris — made headlines.

Richardson was forced off her American flight following an argument with a flight attendant who said the athlete was harassing her and trying to intimidate her, Axios reported.

In a statement similar to the one given to NPR about the allegations made by Hill-Veal, the airline told Axios that it investigates all claims of discrimination, adding, "American Airlines strives to provide a positive and welcoming experience to everyone who travels with us and we take allegations of discrimination very seriously."

In September, Harris, who was traveling with his two biracial children, was stopped and questioned at Los Angeles International Airport after an American Airlines flight attendant suspected he was trafficking the children.

Harris later posted a statement he says was given to him by American: "we and our flight attendant realized that our policies regarding suspected human trafficking were not followed, and through coaching and counseling ... our flight attendant realizes that their interaction and observations did NOT meet the criteria that human trafficking was taking place."

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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Jonathan Franklin
Jonathan Franklin is a reporter on the Newsdesk covering both race & identity and breaking news.