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B.C. couple booted off plane sues Swoop for defamation, accuses airline of racial discrimination

The couple says they have had flashbacks and sought counselling and suffered 'mental, emotional and psychological trauma'.

A Kelowna couple who were removed by police from a Swoop airlines flight has filed a lawsuit against the company and two of its employees.

On August 10, 2022, Jodean Batiste and Andre Henry were kicked off a flight from Toronto to Kelowna. The incident went viral after Batiste streamed part of the interaction on Instagram.

The couple was not seated together. Batiste was seated in front of Henry and noticed an empty seat next to him. She asked one of the flight attendants 'Hannah,' who is named as a defendant in the lawsuit, if she could sit in the empty seat.

Hannah advised Batiste that she would have to pay an extra fee to switch seats and that she could make the switch after boarding was complete. However, before boarding was complete, a man claimed the seat.

Henry asked the other man if his partner could sit next to him, and the other passenger agreed. Batiste moved to the seat next to Henry.

The plaintiffs claim that’s when Hannah became upset even though the other male passenger told the flight attendant that he agreed to the switch. Hannah went on to say that switching seats prior to takeoff was not allowed "due to the weight and balance issues of the aircraft."

The lawsuit alleges that Hannah did not tell Batiste to move but advised that she would be charged a fee for the change, and Batiste said she was willing to pay.

Hannah walked away and returned with the flight crew supervisor. The male passenger told the supervisor he had agreed to swap seats. Hannah allegedly accused Batiste of "giving her attitude." Other passengers spoke up, advising the supervisor that Hannah was behaving inappropriately, the civil suit claims.

A few minutes later, the same flight attendant again confronted Batiste, telling her she had to remove a blanket she had wrapped around her legs prior to takeoff.

Shortly after the crew prepared the plane for takeoff, Batiste noticed the aircraft started to return to the gate. She was then asked to leave the plane.

The supervisor told her that if she did not leave, the police would be called. Batiste asked why she and Henry were being asked to leave, but the plaintiffs were not provided with an answer.

Two Toronto police officers arrived and escorted the couple from the plane.

The lawsuit claims Andre Henry had no conversation with Hannah or the supervisor and did not switch seats. It also points out that his only involvement was his conversation with the other male passenger who switched seats with Batiste.

The plaintiffs say that because of their removal from the aircraft by authorities they are now living a "nightmare of an embarrassment." They also note that two of the passengers involve in the seat-swapping were black and one was Caucasian, yet only the two black passengers were escorted off the plane.

Henry and Batiste had to purchase new WestJet tickets to get to Kelowna at a cost of $2,000.

Shortly after she returned to Kelowna, Batiste told Castanet that Swoop apologized and reimbursed the couple for the WestJet flight they took to get home. However, she admitted she was struggling with the psychological impact of what happened.

The couple is claiming defamation on the part of Hannah and a man believed to be the pilot of the plane, referred to in the lawsuit as ‘John Doe AKA Roberts’.

In August, Batiste shared a response to her Instagram post from the man.

"There was ZERO Racism as I was THE PILOT of the flight and I am a BLACK man which you failed to inform the crowd,” said the comment. The man argues that Batiste was told three times that she needed to be in her assigned seat for takeoff and could then move to the other seat.

The plaintiffs allege that Swoop made false statements to the media in response to questions about the incident, including this statement: “We can confirm on August 10; a couple was escorted off flight WO 315 due to safety concerns reported by the operating crew. The safety of our travellers and crew members is of the utmost importance, and at the time of the reported incident, the crew made the decision to remove the travellers from the flight.”

The lawsuit claims that statement suggests the couple were a safety risk, which they allege is false and defamatory.

The defamation claim against Hannah also alleges that, among other things, she said Batiste made her feel uncomfortable, Batiste failed to follow orders and impeded the takeoff of the aircraft. The lawsuit also argues that Hannah "willfully and intentionally" failed to correct the false information that she provided to Roberts.

The plaintiffs claim Roberts defamed them by implying on Instagram that Batiste was misleading the public, saying that she cursed out the supervisor, Hannah and a customer service agent, and that Batiste played the "race card."

The couple says they have had flashbacks and sought counselling and suffered 'mental, emotional and psychological trauma'. Batiste missed two days of work, and Henry suffered financial loss due to his delay in returning to his business.

The lawsuit seeks general damages, aggravated and punitive damages, compensation for loss of wages, costs, interest and such further and other relief.

None of these allegations has been proven in court. Swoop has not yet filed a response to the civil claim.