Shaun Lynda, co-founder and chair of the nonprofit organization Financially CLEAN, described his experience to reporters last Thursday at Borough Hall. He was flanked by Borough President Eric Adams and his attorney, Roger Archibald.
Adams said Lynda, who hosts free financial literacy seminars regularly at Borough Hall, is “not a stranger” to the office. The borough president said he’s reached out to JetBlue and is looking forward to a sit down with the company.
“I cannot imagine how angry I would have been if I’m on an airline, attempting to return to my family back in the city,” Adams said, “and I’m removed, not because I committed a terrorist action, not because I did something that was violent, not because in any way I raised my voice, but I just engaged in a conversation.
“This man did nothing wrong, and he was treated in this fashion,” he added. “That’s disturbing and alarming.”
According to Lynda, the incident in question took place on a November 28th flight from Barbados to John F. Kennedy International Airport. Lynda was returning home to Brooklyn from vacation.
It started when Lynda, who is black, noticed a white family of four, including two kids, struggle to put their carry-on items away. A flight attendant offered to move the family to a row in the front of the plane with extra legroom.
Lynda then asked that flight attendant why the family, whom he said was “slowing down the flight,” was being moved to the front.
“The flight attendant looked at me, snapped at me and said, ‘it’s none of your business.’” he said.
Another JetBlue employee who witnessed the exchange offered Lynda a chance to sit in the front as well, to which the Brooklyn resident accepted.
A few minutes later, however, the first flight attendant saw Lynda sitting in the front row and allegedly told him to return to his original seat.
After being denied a chance to speak to the captain, Lynda said a security officer pulled him aside and said he must either go back to his seat or be escorted off the flight.
“I put my pride aside, put my head down and walked back to my original seat of 18C,” Lynda said.
After he returned, Lynda said the original flight attendant walked up to him, bent on one knee, patted him on the leg and asked, “Are you going to behave yourself?”
“I’m an educated man,” he responded. “Why would I not behave?”
According to Lynda, the flight attendant then walked away, spoke to the captain, and minutes later had security remove him from the plane. That’s when Lynda began recording fellow passengers’ reactions on his phone, which he shared in a Facebook post.
Lynda said he was then questioned by immigration and law enforcement officials about the incident. He collected his belongings and left the airport, knowing then he would miss Thanksgiving with his family.
JetBlue booked Lynda a flight the next day, and he was, to his surprise, seated in the front row of the plane.
“I just think it’s unfair, I don’t think I should have been removed from a flight just for asking a question,” he said. “I wanted the public to know so people can know things that should be corrected.”
Archibald, Lynda’s attorney, said they have already filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Transportation about the incident. They are also considering other legal options.
“This is not just about Shaun Lynda, this is about the flying public,” he said. “All people have a right to fly free of discrimination. It is our view that what happened was actually racial discrimination.”
A JetBlue spokesperson said in a statement that the family was reseated so the mother “could sit next to her children,” which is consistent with JetBlue’s policy to “make every effort to seat families together.”
The spokesperson said Lynda had “demanded an extra legroom seat as well,” but declined to pay for an upgraded seat assignment. He was then asked to return to his original seat.
“The customer became angry and used inappropriate language with crew members,” the spokesperson said. “As the situation risked further escalation in air after takeoff, the crew determined the customer would need to be rebooked on a different flight.”
Lynda said he was “absolutely not” asked to pay for an upgraded seat. He also took issue with being called “angry” by the airline.
“I did not use profanity, I wasn’t cursing in any way,” he said. “I merely asked a question, and from there it snowballed.”
He suggested that both the flight attendant and the captain of the plane should be reprimanded for their actions.
“We take any claim of discrimination seriously,” the JetBlue spokesperson said. “The decision to remove a customer from a flight is not made lightly and would never be related to a customer’s ethnicity or race.
“As New York City’s hometown airline, diversity is in our DNA,” the spokesperson added, “and we celebrate the many cultural backgrounds of our crewmembers and customers.”