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B.C. couple questions why they were escorted by police off Swoop flight after seat change

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A B.C. couple is questioning why a minor dispute on a plane escalated to them being escorted off by police.

Other passengers on the flight are defending the couple, who are Black, accusing staff of racism.

Jhody Batiste was flying from Toronto to Kelowna on Wednesday when she asked another passenger to switch seats so she could sit next to her partner, Andre Henry. 

The passenger agreed, Batiste said, and a flight attendant told her she would have to pay to switch seats.

Batiste said others on the plane came to her defence.

“Then she’s like, ‘It’s not even about switching seats anymore. It’s about [your] attitude. And then someone from the back said, ‘No, your staff is the one who is giving an attitude. You should be talking to your staff,'” she said.

Fellow passenger Jennifer Aviss witnessed the incident and said Batiste was simply defending herself as anyone would.

“She wasn’t rude,” Aviss said. 

Aviss said she tried to intervene by talking to the flight attendants and then the pilot. 

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“This was very clearly racial,” she said. “The other person that switched seats with Jhody was a Caucasian male — never spoken to. They didn’t say a word to him.” 

Batiste said she was told a flight attendant wasn’t comfortable with her on the flight, and that the authorities would be contacted if they didn’t get off the plane. 

Police eventually arrived to escort Batiste and Henry off the flight. 

“I felt naked, ashamed, exposed, embarrassed,” Batiste said. “All sorts of emotions just flowing.” 

She said they had to book new flights, costing them close to $2,000.

“It’s just a disgrace all around,” Henry said.

Batiste said the most difficult part was explaining what happened to their eight-year-old son.

Jhody Batiste hugs her son on a porch. She is wearing a long-sleeved Champion sweater, he is wearing a black t-shirt.
Jhody Batiste said her experience on a Swoop airlines led to a challenging conversation with her young son. (CBC)

“He was like, ‘Mommy, you’re not a bad person,'” she said. “That tugged on my heart and that was the first time I had the conversation with my son regarding the colour of your skin.”

Peel Police confirmed it responded to a call for a disturbance on a Swoop flight on Wednesday afternoon and “escorted the parties off the aircraft without incident.” 

In a statement to CBC, Swoop Airlines said it has reached out to the couple.

“The safety of our travellers and crew members is of the utmost importance, and at the time of the reported incident, the crew made the decision to remove the two travellers from the flight,” the statement read.

“Swoop has zero tolerance for racism and discrimination of any kind. We take these matters very seriously and immediately launched an investigation into this file.”

Batiste said the airline apologized and has offered to reimburse them for their Swoop tickets.

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