© Provided by Business Insider Inc A woman was removed from an Air Canada flight after the crew wrongly assumed she had a contagious disease. CBC News/YouTube
- Jeanne Lehman, a black woman from Edmonton, was removed from an Air Canada flight because crew members believed she had a contagious disease.
- According to Lehman, doctors had already diagnosed her with shingles and told her she was not contagious.
- Flight attendants still made her leave the plane and brought her to the hospital, where she was told that she was fit to fly.
- Air Canada gave her a hotel room, food vouchers, and a business class flight for the next day.
- The experience left Lehman feeling humiliated and emotionally distressed, and she believes that this incident is an example of systemic racism.
A black, French-speaking woman from Edmonton, Canada, was removed from an Air Canada flight from Halifax to her home city on April 22 because the crew believed that she had a contagious disease.
Passenger Jeanne Lehman told INSIDER she was diagnosed with shingles a few days before her flight, but doctors in Halifax had given her medication and told her that she was not contagious. Lehman said that she attempted to tell the flight crew that she was not contagious, but she was removed from the plane regardless.
After being taken to the same hospital in Halifax she had visited a few days earlier, where she received the same diagnosis of shingles and a doctor's note that declared her fit to fly, Air Canada put Lehman on a flight the next day.
However, Lehman claims the experience has left her feeling humiliated and emotionally distressed, and she believes that the incident is an example of systemic racism.
Lehman told INSIDER that she started feeling unwell and developed a rash on her forehead when she arrived in Halifax from Edmonton on April 18.
According to Lehman, the rash spread on her face over the course of the next two days, prompting her to visit a walk-in clinic on April 19 and the emergency room of a hospital in Halifax on April 20, where doctors gave her antiviral medication, diagnosed her with shingles, and told her that she was not contagious.
By the time she boarded her flight on April 22, Lehman said that her skin condition had worsened and one of her eyes became swollen. Feeling self-conscious about her appearance, Lehman asked a flight attendant if she could be given a window seat.
© Provided by Business Insider Inc Lehman developed a rash on her face while in Halifax. CBC News/YouTube
Lehman said that the flight attendant did move her to a window seat, but then returned minutes later wearing a mask and gloves. The flight attendant told Lehman to take her belongings and follow her off the plane. Unsure what was happening, Lehman asked the flight attendant why she was being asked to leave, but said she did not get an answer. "No one talked to me," Lehman said. "No one listened to me."
The flight attendant led her off the plane and back into the boarding area, where most of the other passengers were still waiting to board. Lehman claimed that, in front of all these people, the flight attendant loudly announced that she was contagious.
"She said to me, 'You're contagious.' She was practically screaming it in front of everyone," Lehman told us. "I told her, 'But I am not contagious! And even if I was, this is not the way to say it. Please don't say this in front of everyone.'"
Lehman said she tried to explain to the crew that she had already been seen by doctors and that her condition was not contagious, but they did not listen to her.
The pilot announced over the PA system that the flight would no longer be departing that night because a contagious woman had been on the plane. Then the crew removed all of the passengers from the plane, provided them with overnight accommodation, and told them that they would fly out the next day.
According to Lehman, the crew instructed her to go see a doctor and return with a doctor's note. When she told them that she didn't know where the closest medical facility was, a representative from Air Canada accompanied her and brought her back to the same hospital in Halifax that she had already visited on April 20.
"No one wanted to listen to me," Lehman said. "I could've told them that I already went to see the doctor. I could've even told them which medication they gave me. But no one talked to me, and no one listened to me."
At the hospital in Halifax, she was diagnosed with shingles for a second time and cleared to fly.
Lehman provided INSIDER with a copy of the doctor's note from her second visit to the hospital which states that she was fit to fly.
© Provided by Business Insider Inc The doctor's note from Lehman's second visit to the hospital. Jeanne Lehman
Once she was cleared to fly, Air Canada gave Lehman a business class ticket for a flight the next day. They also provided her with a hotel room and food vouchers.
On April 23, Lehman flew from Halifax to Edmonton, with a stop in Toronto. However, she said she continued to experience problems. When she approached the gate for boarding in Toronto, the Air Canada representative told her that she couldn't fly because she needed to prove that she was not contagious.
"I didn't even have the strength to talk," Lehman said. "I told him, 'It's in your records. In Halifax you were wrong. Are you seriously asking me this again?'"
Lehman said she presented the doctor's note from her second visit to the Halifax hospital to the Air Canada representative and was then allowed to board the plane.
Lehman believes that the treatment she received from Air Canada is an example of systemic racism.
"I was treated like an animal," Lehman told us. "When I asked the flight attendant why she was pulling me out of the plane, she didn't answer me. She didn't even look at me."
Lehman thinks Air Canada might have treated her differently if she were white.
"The flight attendant wouldn't have done this to a white woman," she told INSIDER. "She wouldn't have said it so loudly in front of everyone. There is something about a woman like me that makes them think they can say that without consequence."
"I feel sure that this is a case of systemic racism," she said.
Systemic racism, according to sociologists Matthew Clair and Jeffrey S. Denis, refers to racial discrimination in "organizational or institutional contexts." This concept — also known as structural racism or institutional racism — explains that racism is built right into every level of our society. As a result, organizations and societies often treat one group better than another even if they don't have "overtly racist intent."
© Provided by Business Insider Inc Lehman said that her experience with Air Canada is an example of systemic racism. Jeanne Lehman
Other passengers were struck by the way that Lehman had been treated. Susan McAlister, who was also on the April 22 flight, told CBC News that, as a nurse, she was not worried because it was clear from Lehman's physical state that she was not contagious. "It was bizarre," McAlister said. "I started to feel angry that she had been treated this way."
According to Lehman, Air Canada has not reached out to her to apologize for the way she was treated and said the incident has caused her significant emotional distress. "I have this trauma now," she said. "I cannot even sleep. I still have flashbacks."
Air Canada released a statement to CBC News claiming that their priority is the health and safety of their customers and employees, and so they acted "out of an abundance of caution." The airline did not immediately reply to INSIDER's request for comment.
Lehman said that it is important that we as a society address the issue of systemic racism.
"It's not enough to say, 'I can't be racist, I have friends who are black,'" she said. "No, we need to recognize that racism is everywhere. We need to educate people. I love Canada, and I know that systemic racism is not one of our values. We need to fix this if we don't want our country to be spoiled."
This would not be the first time that a major airline has been accused of mistreating its passengers who are people of color. Southwest Airlines was criticized for forcibly removing a Muslim woman of color from a plane in October 2017, and United Airlines also came under fire for dragging a 69-year-old Asian man off a plane in April 2017.
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