Sonamjeet Narwan was waiting to board an Air Canada flight when she says she experienced “unequivocally foul” racism that the airline handled in a “horrid” way.
The 28-year-old UK citizen was standing in line for a Tuesday morning flight from Washington DC to Toronto when she said a woman cut in line. When Narwan and another passenger asked the woman to wait her turn, she rolled her eyes and told Narwan to go back to where she came from.
“She said she knew my type,” said Narwan. “When I asked her what she meant by that, she said, ‘You’re a 9/11 bloodsucker.’
“While I am not Muslim, that is beyond the point. It’s not rocket science that all Muslims aren’t terrorists, nor are all brown people a homogenous group. Even if I were Muslim, this is unequivocally foul and racist.”
Narwan, who lives in Sao Paulo, Brazil, shared the incident with HuffPost Canada through WhatsApp while on another flight later in the morning. Her sister, Gurpreet Narwan, had tweeted about the incident to Air Canada shortly after it happened.
Air Canada told HuffPost the incident is “highly concerning” and it is looking into the matter. “The upset passenger was upgraded and the in-flight crew did all they could to reassure her onboard,” said spokesperson Peter Fitzpatrick.
Narwan said she took the upgrade to the front row of seats so that she would be further away from woman.
In its international tariff conditions, Air Canada says passengers are prohibited from being abusive, offensive, threatening, intimidating, violent or disorderly. If employees believe there’s a possibility the passenger would disrupt or impair the “physical comfort or safety” of others, they can refuse to allow the passenger to board, or require they follow “probationary conditions”.
Narwan said the incident took place in front of Air Canada staff, who largely ignored it. In tears, Narwan asked the woman not be allowed on the same flight as her, as she felt deeply uncomfortable.
“She had her arms folded stridently, and she was staring me down with an antagonizing smirk. I asked her to stop staring at me, and she declined this request,” Narwan said.
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She said Air Canada staff told her she would have to first report the incident to police, which she did. The police officer advised her that, as there was no physical assault, it was up to the airline to decide if it would allow the passenger to board. Air Canada confirmed police were involved and no action was taken.
Narwan said she went back to Air Canada staff who told her that “while the abuse was ‘despicable’ and ‘clearly racist,’ it was not illegal” and the passenger would be allowed to fly. Narwan was offered an alternative flight.
“This was not an option, out of principle,” she said. “What message is the airline sending if it is placing the burden on the victim, and allowing (the woman) to get away scot-free?”
Narwan got on the plane, shocked at the turn of events, but now feels resolute. “I want some acknowledgement from the airline that how this abuse was handled was nothing less than horrid,” she said.