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Was the airline staff racist in dismissing this crying woman? Ask Ellie

Q I was recently returning home from visiting friends in London whom I hadn’t seen since before the pandemic. I accessed my boarding pass and arrived at Heathrow three and a half hours early, but several airport employees told me that my boarding pass was not valid.

I eventually found a supervisor who told me that the agents at the gate were the only ones who could assign me a seat.

Along the way, I met and accompanied a crying and insistent Nigerian mother who was trying to get to Ottawa to see her daughter who is studying at a university there.

We sat together at the door and I went to the waiting list. My name was first on the list so I relaxed. However, my new companion’s name was not listed.

When an agent arrived at the office, I approached him, remaining with the agitated mother as people lined up behind us.

At the counter, I saw my boarding pass and about twenty others. But the anxious woman was told she would have to wait for the next plane…maybe even a day!

I politely said that she was already at the airport when I had arrived a few hours earlier and pointed out to her that she was now in distress.

The gate agent said, “Well, you can give him your seat.”

I could hardly believe what I was hearing! Was it just an overworked and exhausted airport employee who also needed my understanding of his situation?

Or was the officer’s sarcastic and dismissive response based on racism?

With her daughter’s acceptance by a prestigious Canadian university leading her to reconnect with her offspring, the woman is verbally rebuffed…probably for many hours, if not days.

I took my seat that I had reserved and purchased long ago, knowing that my own family was home and waiting for me. But I felt bad leaving my “friend” at the airport.

disgusted traveler

ATaking care of this woman’s predicament came naturally to you, because it’s in your nature. Whether or not the airline agent was exhausted and/or angered by your support of the woman during a tense time, his dismissal of her (and a nasty challenge to you) reflected a certain attitude…call it indifferent or suspect it’s racist; It happens too often to too many people.

Recently, Air Canada employees and passengers experienced the worst phase of flight delays in airline history, with crowded waiting rooms and lost luggage galore.

Racism too? If so, there is no acceptable excuse.

Canada has benefited from its influx of immigrants (Toronto was declared the most diverse city in the world in 2017), many of whom excel in healthcare where hospitals and medical researchers are much needed. Yet there are people who maintain a distanced attitude towards “the other” – it protects them, they think.

Unfortunately, they miss out on the benefits of learning/accepting/knowing their neighbours’ cultures, histories and friendship.

Racism, on the other hand, is fear and ignorance. My apologies to the woman on the plane.

FEEDBACKRegarding the couple financing the university studies of their niece (July 18):

“Here’s a good solution to that problem where she’s not working in the summer to bring in her own money and similar advice for others like them: matching funds.

“Anything a student earns, you will match. It gives an incentive, rewards the niece, and also keeps her from sitting at home, not finding a summer job, and doing nothing to achieve her stated goal, all summer long.

Ellie’s tip of the day

Negative attitudes about “others” ignore the economic and cultural benefits of Canada’s globally recognized diversity, with newcomers bringing unique talents/skills/food/music, and the ambitions of their children born here.

Ellie Tesher and Lisi Tesher are senior columnists for the Star and are based in Toronto. Email your relationship questions to: [email protected]


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