American Airlines issued a public statement Tuesday apologizing to a 37-year-old physician from Houston, who was removed from an aircraft by flight attendants who thought her outfit was inappropriate. Dr. Tisha Rowe, who identifies as African American and Caribbean American, says the incident happened on June 30 after she boarded a flight from Jamaica to Miami wearing a sleeveless romper with her 8-year-old son. Before the flight departed, she says she was approached by a female flight attendant who asked her to step off the plane. Once off the plane, Rowe says the attendant asked her if she had a jacket to cover herself. When she said she didn’t, she was told that she would only be readmitted if she agreed to wrap herself in a blanket.
Humiliated, Rowe told BuzzFeed News that she only complied with the attendant so that she wouldn’t have to forfeit her seat on the plane. “I felt powerless,” she said. “There was nothing I could do in that moment other than give up my money and my seat to defend my position that I was completely appropriate.”
Rowe shared the story on Twitter along with a photo of the tropical printed romper she wore to the airport.
The family medicine physician also voiced her frustration on Facebook, arguing that she was targeted due to racist stigmas against black women’s bodies.
“We are policed for being black. Our bodies are over sexualized as women and we must adjust to make everyone around us comfortable. I’ve seen white women with much shorter shorts board a plane without a blink of an eye. I guess if it’s a ‘nice ass’ vs. a Serena Booty it’s O.K,” read a now-deleted post on Rowe’s Facebook page.
After she and her son finally walked back to their seats, she said that her son felt ashamed and was moved to tears. He even went as far as to cover his head underneath a blanket and pleaded with her to be compliant. “‘Mommy, follow the rules,’ ” he told her, reports The Washington Post. “I’m trying to explain to an 8-year-old — Mommy did not break the rules.”
When the flight landed Rowe says that she noticed another female passenger who was wearing shorts that were shorter than hers but who apparently faced no issue boarding the plane. “The difference between that woman and me is she was about a size 2, thin,” Rowe told The Washington Post. “It’s hard to understand if you are not a double minority” — both black and a woman — “how it’s not pulling a card.”
In response, American Airlines issued the following statement:
“We were concerned about Dr. Rowe’s comments, and reached out to her and our team at the Kingston airport to gather more information about what occurred. We apologize to Dr. Rowe and her son for their experience, and have fully refunded their travel. We are proud to serve customers of all backgrounds and are committed to providing a positive, safe travel experience for everyone who flies with us.”