Racism and not ‘pungent’ odor got Nigerian family kicked off 2016 United flight, new suit claims

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A Nigerian woman has filed a racial discrimination lawsuit in federal court against United Airlines this week after she and her children were kicked off a flight two years ago when a fellow passenger in business class complained that she had a “pungent” odor.

Queen Obioma has alleged that she and her two children were boarding the United flight, part of United Continental Holdings Inc. UAL, +1.36% , from Houston to San Francisco on March 4, 2016, for the second leg of a three-flight trip from Lagos, Nigeria to Ontario, Canada, when they found that a man was sitting in her assigned seat, the Houston Chronicle reported.

Obioma said the passenger, a white man, refused to move from her seat. When a flight attendant got involved, Obioma did agree to take the other passenger’s assigned seat, she claims. She later got up to use the bathroom only to find the same man blocking her from getting to her seat, the lawsuit says. Obioma alleges that she said “excuse me” to the man three times, but was ignored initially before being allowed to pass, according to the Washington Post.

Obioma was then asked to deplane and told by an airline employee that she and her two children were being removed from the flight because the male passenger had made a complaint that she had a “pungent” odor, the Post reported.

The mother was left sobbing and confused over what steps to take, according to the Dallas News, and as a result, the family was reportedly forced to wait hours before they could get on another flight, which Obioma said caused them to miss important appointments in Ontario.

The lawsuit, which seeks unknown punitive damages, accuses United Airlines of discriminating against Obioma and her children that day because they were black.

The airline has told several news outlets that they have not yet received the suit, which was filed in Houston on Friday, and cannot comment on a suit they’ve not seen.

In April 2017, United faced a crisis of confidence when a video went viral showing 69-year-old doctor, David Dao, forcibly removed by dragging from a United flight at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport because the flight was overbooked and he refused to get off the plane. The incident brought an out-of-court settlement and an apology from the company’s chief executive Oscar Munoz.

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