NFL Great Kicked Out Of First Class On American Airlines, Calls It Racism

NFL great Hardy Nickerson was downgraded from first class to coach on an American Airlines flight from Charlotte to San Francisco on Tuesday, along with his wife and son.

The five-time NFL Pro-Bowler and four-time NFL All-Pro linebacker for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers took to social media to complain about how the situation was handled, noting that his family is black and everyone else in first class was white.

The craziest thing happened to me, my wife and my son this morning as we are on a @AmericanAir AmericanAirlines flight from Charlotte to SanFrancisco. First class tickets. All three of us. Seated. Before take off the flight attendant told us they were moving us to the back of the

— Hardy Nickerson (@hardynickerson) January 10, 2023

plane b/c of a weight imbalance. Our seats were in rows 3 and 4. Rather than making an announcement to everyone in 1st class they came right for us. Now we just so happened to be the only African Americans in first class. Rather than explaining the situation to everyone in 1st

— Hardy Nickerson (@hardynickerson) January 10, 2023

class they came right at us. Basically telling us to get to the back of the bus. This was some BS! The flight attendant insisted moving us was the solution! Moving us seems to always be the solution!!Worse? The rest of 1stclass (all white) began looking at us like “just move!”

— Hardy Nickerson (@hardynickerson) January 10, 2023

From the way Nickerson described the situation, the customer service here was terrible. Taking a customer, who paid for first class, and telling them that they’re going to have to sit in coach is a delicate situation. You’re necessarily disappointing and putting out a premium customer. They aren’t getting what they paid for, and they’re facing a 5 hour 48 minute flight in exactly the situation (coach) that they’d spent money to avoid.

However when there’s a weight and balance situation, and someone needs to be moved out of first class, there’s an order in which that’s done and passengers show up on a computerized list at American Airlines. That list does not show or factor the passenger’s race.

At some level I’m surprised to see several passengers downgraded on the morning Charlotte – San Francisco flight due to weight and balance, but flight 844 was a 2009 vintage Airbus A321 heading Westbound across the country in winter. The flight was one third empty. The Nickersons also weren’t the only ones downgraded on the flight.

From a passenger perspective, when the airline doesn’t clearly explain what’s happening and why – including how the decision was made to downgrade specific passengers – it’s natural to assume that it’s arbitrary, or the result of race. Five years ago the NAACP issued a travel advisory about American (unfairly in my view) which has since been lifted. Under the circumstances they clearly needed to communicate better.

It seems here that customers were left to ‘fill in the blanks’ about why they were the ones who had to move back to economy, and in that situation it’s not unreasonable for them to assume “what’s different between them and other passengers in first class?” is race rather than frequent flyer status.

I reached out to American Airlines for comment, and will update if they respond.

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