A black man traveling on a United Airlines plane has claimed that a flight attendant agreed to give a white woman sitting next to him a $1,000 voucher for taking her feet off the tray table, while not offering him similar courtesy.
After his complaint went viral on Twitter, he called the company's response "tone deaf".
In a statement to Newsweek, United disputed the story, saying: "At no point was any customer offered compensation for this issue."
“The audacity of white privilege,” Frederick Joseph, who started the ‘Black Panther Challenge’ fundraising initiative, wrote in a series of tweets on Tuesday March 13.
While on a flight from Austin, Texas, to Newark, New Jersey, Joseph said, a woman sitting next to him took off her shoes and placed her feet on the tray table. He shared a picture appearing to show a person’s foot on an airline table.
Joseph said that airline staff did not say anything despite walking past numerous times.
“I’m irate,” Frederick wrote, “because no black person would ever get away with this s--t.”
When it seemed like the staff would not take any action, Joseph said he decided to speak to the woman beside him. According to Joseph, he said “Ma’am, I’m trying to eat, and your feet are next to my food.”
The audacity of white privilege:— Frederick Joseph (@FredTJoseph) March 13, 2018
This woman next to me took her shoes off and placed both feet on the table. So I’m waiting for flight staff to say something... pic.twitter.com/ldOIgwiPWi
“What do you want me to do?" the woman replied, according to Joseph. "The seats are small.”
“I understand, which is why there is room for your feet and legs under the seat in front of you,” Joseph said he replied.
“This is why I fly first class, and I don’t come back here with everyone else,” the woman then allegedly said back. When Joseph then asked her if she would put her feet down, he said the woman called over a flight attendant and accused Joseph of “disrupting her flight” while she was “just trying to be comfortable.”
According to Joseph, the flight attendant suggested that the woman put her feet closer to the window or put one foot down, to which the woman replied: “If I put one foot down, I want to be accommodated for accommodating him.”
Speaking to Newsweek on the phone, Joseph said that the woman asked for a $1,000 voucher that had been offered by the airline prior to the flight for those willing to take a later plane. He said the attendant went to speak to someone else before returning and agreeing.
Shocked by this, Joseph said he asked the flight attendant “What voucher will I be receiving for my suffering?”
To which they allegedly replied “Sir, we can only make but so many accommodations, and she has agreed to move her feet for you.”
In an update on Wednesday, Joseph said he had recieved a call from United saying that the woman did not recieve any compensation. Joseph says that he told the respresentative: “I’m happy to hear that, but I still have an issue with the flight attendant pacifying her and essentially taking her side.”
Joseph says he told United that "the flight attendant created a negative situation for me and took her side" when the alleged offer took place. "I find it hard to believe that if this was a person of color someone wouldn’t have asked her to put her feet down," Joseph said he continued.
He then said that the respresentative identified themselves as "a Hispanic person" and said that they personally did not "believe it has anything to do with race or culture."
In his most recent tweet, Joseph said: "Basically, United had a woman w/ a Spanish sounding surname tell me there should be no issue because the woman ended up not getting money.
"Oh, and racial bias didn’t matter here, because again a woman with Spanish sounding name at United says it didn’t," adding, "Tone deaf."
In a statement to Newsweek, United Airlines said "At no point was any customer offered compensation for this issue, and we’ve talked with our customer to clarify this with him, and address his concerns. We want all of our customers to be treated with respect, and we do not tolerate discrimination of any kind."
Speaking to Newsweek, Joseph said that he did not feel he had been actively discriminated against but that "I do think there’s an underlying way in which white people are often pacified that people of color are just not."
"Even the woman on the phone for United saying 'we would have done the same thing for anybody', I just don’t believe that that’s true."
"United has said that there’s no voucher so she didn’t end up getting it," Joseph said, but he added, "even in the moment, if you’re not intending on giving her this, you’re still publicly pacifying it. Even if she never recieves a thing at all, it’s still a matter of... you have aligned yourself with what she’s saying and what she wants to do so you might as well just give her the money anyway because if it hadn’t gone viral I would have been home thinking this woman got this money."
Joseph's story created much conversation on Twitter, with a number of users commenting on the racial undertones they percieved and asking for United to comment or apologize. A number of users noted that it occured a day after United said they took "full responsibility" for a puppy which died when a flight attendant allegedly made the owner put the animal in the overhead compartment.
More from Newsweek