A Nigerian passenger has filed a civil rights lawsuit alleging that United Airlines personnel ejected her and her children from an international flight departing from Houston in 2016 because of her “pungent” odor.
The woman says in a federal discrimination suit filed in Houston Friday that she and her minor children were boarding a San Francisco bound plane — the second leg of a three-flight journey from Nigeria to Canada — when an incident occurred involving a white male passenger that escalated to her being asked by United staff to exit the plane. They eventually made their connection after a five-hour delay.
United Airlines representatives said they would not comment.
“We have not yet been served with this suit and due to the pending litigation involved in this matter, we’re unable to provide further comment,” spokesman for the airline said, in a emailed statement.
An attorney for the woman also could not be reached for comment.
According to court documents, Queen Obioma, a frequent flier member on the United’s Star Alliance was traveling from Lagos, Nigeria to Ontario, Canada in March 4, 2016 where her children were going to school.
During a flight change in Bush Intercontinental Airport, Obioma arrived at her row in business class to find a white passenger sitting in her assigned seat. He refused to relocate, according to the lawsuit. The flight staff attempted to resolve the conflict, but the man persisted and Obioma agreed to take his seat nearby.
Prior to takeoff, she returned from visiting the restroom and the same male passenger tried to block her access to the seat for several minutes, according to the charges. She says a United staffer named in documents as Russel H. ordered her to step off the plane, where she was told by another United agent that the pilot had asked her to exit the plane based on a complaint from the white man sitting near her her, according to the lawsuit.
Obioma says in the lawsuit that she was informed that the business class passenger was not comfortable flying with her because she was “pungent” and informed that she could not return to the plane. Distraught, the woman explained that her children were still on board. United agents removed the children from the flight as well, and they made their connection five hours later.
Obioma says United discriminated against her because she is black, African and Nigerian. She is seeking punitive damages and attorney’s fees.