A Black woman from Edmonton, Canada, is blaming systemic racism for the way she was forced off of a flight for having a noncontagious illness.
Jeanne Lehman was flying on an Air Canada flight from Halifax at the end of April when she was humiliated by the flight crew for having shingles. On April 19, Lehman was diagnosed and put on medication. Although her doctor said she wasn’t contagious and cleared her to fly on April 22, flight attendants assumed she was contagious due to her rash and swollen eyes.
“She said to me, ‘You’re contagious.’ She was practically screaming it in front of everyone,” Lehman told The Insider. “I told her, ‘But I am not contagious! And even if I was, this is not the way to say it. Please don’t say this in front of everyone.’”
Even though Lehman repeatedly explained she wasn’t contagious, no one on the flight crew would listen. Eventually Lehman was forced off the plane and the pilot canceled the flight. Everyone on the flight was put in a hotel for the night and booked on a different flight for the next morning.
“I was treated like an animal,” Lehman said. “When I asked the flight attendant why she was pulling me out of the plane, she didn’t answer me. She didn’t even look at me.”
The next day, Lehman went back to the same doctor who gave the diagnosis and obtained a signed note that specifically stated she was not contagious.
“I could’ve told them that I already went to see the doctor,” she said. “I could’ve even told them which medication they gave me. But no one talked to me, and no one listened to me.”
Lehman says the way she was treated in front of other customers was due to systemic racism.
“The flight attendant wouldn’t have done this to a white woman,” she said. “She wouldn’t have said it so loudly in front of everyone. There is something about a woman like me that makes them think they can say that without consequence.”
In a statement to CBC, Air Canada said that its passengers’ health and safety is the airline’s priority.
“For privacy reasons we cannot provide details about individual customers, but we can confirm that once the passenger received medical clearance she was able to travel. Our priority is always the health and safety of our customers and employees, so we acted out of an abundance of caution. Regrettably, the situation resulted in inconvenience for some customers and we will be dealing with them directly.”
Lehman says that she’s never received an apology from the airline.
“It’s not enough to say, ‘I can’t be racist, I have friends who are black,’” she said. “No, we need to recognize that racism is everywhere. We need to educate people. I love Canada, and I know that systemic racism is not one of our values. We need to fix this if we don’t want our country to be spoiled.”