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Aviation Blog

NFL Great Kicked Out Of First Class On American Airlines, Calls It … – View from the Wing

private aircraft charter

on January 11, 2023
NFL great Hardy Nickerson was downgraded from first class to coach on an American Airlines flight from Charlotte to San Francisco on Tuesday, along with his wife and son.
The five-time NFL Pro-Bowler and four-time NFL All-Pro linebacker for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers took to social media to complain about how the situation was handled, noting that his family is black and everyone else in first class was white.
The craziest thing happened to me, my wife and my son this morning as we are on a @AmericanAir AmericanAirlines flight from Charlotte to SanFrancisco. First class tickets. All three of us. Seated. Before take off the flight attendant told us they were moving us to the back of the
— Hardy Nickerson (@hardynickerson) January 10, 2023

plane b/c of a weight imbalance. Our seats were in rows 3 and 4. Rather than making an announcement to everyone in 1st class they came right for us. Now we just so happened to be the only African Americans in first class. Rather than explaining the situation to everyone in 1st
— Hardy Nickerson (@hardynickerson) January 10, 2023

class they came right at us. Basically telling us to get to the back of the bus. This was some BS! The flight attendant insisted moving us was the solution! Moving us seems to always be the solution!!
Worse? The rest of 1stclass (all white) began looking at us like “just move!”
— Hardy Nickerson (@hardynickerson) January 10, 2023

From the way Nickerson described the situation, the customer service here was terrible. Taking a customer, who paid for first class, and telling them that they’re going to have to sit in coach is a delicate situation. You’re necessarily disappointing and putting out a premium customer. They aren’t getting what they paid for, and they’re facing a 5 hour 48 minute flight in exactly the situation (coach) that they’d spent money to avoid.
However when there’s a weight and balance situation, and someone needs to be moved out of first class, there’s an order in which that’s done and passengers show up on a computerized list at American Airlines. That list does not show or factor the passenger’s race.
At some level I’m surprised to see several passengers downgraded on the morning Charlotte – San Francisco flight due to weight and balance, but flight 844 was a 2009 vintage Airbus A321 heading Westbound across the country in winter. The flight was one third empty. The Nickersons also weren’t the only ones downgraded on the flight.
From a passenger perspective, when the airline doesn’t clearly explain what’s happening and why – including how the decision was made to downgrade specific passengers – it’s natural to assume that it’s arbitrary, or the result of race. Five years ago the NAACP issued a travel advisory about American (unfairly in my view) which has since been lifted. Under the circumstances they clearly needed to communicate better.
It seems here that customers were left to ‘fill in the blanks’ about why they were the ones who had to move back to economy, and in that situation it’s not unreasonable for them to assume “what’s different between them and other passengers in first class?” is race rather than frequent flyer status.
I reached out to American Airlines for comment, and will update if they respond.
Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel – a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the “World’s Top Travel Experts” by Conde’ Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »
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More a “Don’t You Know Who I Am?” moment that a Flying While Black moment. And no, I don’t know who you are.
Why move anyone in first class at all? If the flight was 1/3 empty, moving many coach passengers toward the rear could have worked, too. I was on a transatlantic flight once, and that’s exactly what the flight crew did: move lots of coach passengers back.
Isn’t weight and balance predominantly for take-off and landing? I’ve been moved and then allowed to return after take-off.
Wow, beyond belief. I’m an AA fan, but wow, so wrong on so many levels. If they really had a weight imbalance, why wouldn’t they just say so and then offer vouchers and look for volunteers to move out of FC ? In the worst case, if they got no takers, anything involuntary should still provide vouchers, and only tag free-upgraded seats in FC.
If the flight was in fact one-third empty, to get the “moments” of the aircraft balanced, AA could have easily moved any number of passengers seated in the forward rows of the main cabin to the back without disturbing anyone in first class. Not good to mess over your highest paying customers.
No comments about “woke,” please.
Usually when this happens it’s move X number of people from one zone to another one. But it is usually just for takeoff, not the entire flight. So this family should have been able to move back to first class as soon as the seatbelt sign was turned off.
TexasTJ, “The Nickersons also weren’t the only ones downgraded on the flight.”
@C_M: Actually, I would wonder why I was chosen if this happened to me. Explaining that the process is a blind algorithm is crucial. In this case, was that done?
DYKWIA is not reacting to every instance in which you don’t get what you paid for. It’s expecting what you didn’t pay for.
If it happened to me, I’d be pissed but my large size (6’5″, 260#) would also explain it. Well, this guy is an “NFL great” and likely to be beefy as well. He’s not famous for being a jockey. And, weight and balance issues are pretty tough on big people. All that said, as is typical,AA handled this delicate situation like crap – as they so often do. Thus leading to accusations like this, which are the default go-to position for the outrage mob. When the reality is that the airline would want to move multiple people in the same group – especially if that group represented a lot of weight. Oddly, you’d usually want that weight in the front, but perhaps the rear was underweight.
I do hope this guy got a refund and then some for his trouble.
Wow…a lot went wrong here…
Do I think they moved them because they were black? No.
Do I think they had a weight issue? Yes.
That said…there were literally a hundred better ways to handle this than how they handled it. Does anyone stop for a second and say…we’ve got premium passengers here…how do we explain it correctly?…what can we do to make this up to them?…how about asking for volunteers from first class (with incentive) BEFORE using some dumb alogrithm?
This is not the first time they’ve needed to do this…is there no proper procedure?
FAIL…FAIL…FAIL AA!!! C’mon you’re a major…act like one!
Hardy who?
How great is he. . .never heard of him.
Did they still offer them drinks and food. . .I bet they did.
How sad that this guy immediately yells ‘racism’ when the problem is ‘communication’. AA should not allow such ignorant employees to deal with sensitive issues like downgrading. AA peeps are at fault, but pax are the ones who suffer. Flying across the US in coach IS suffering if it’s a full flight. But this stuff happens occasionally when travelling. The ability of angry people to instantly ‘express themselves’ on social media is a very unfortunate situation. They should not be allowed to scream about the situation until they know why it happened. Most of us couldn’t care less about some NFL star, no matter what his color. Realistically, if the plane was indeed a third empty, then being relegated to coach wouldn’t be an issue at all. First class is all about physical comfort and nice service. AA can deliver that easily if the flight has lots of empty seats. Angry pax are just making fools of themselves.
Racism. The knee-jerk wholesale explanation for every wrong in the world, from global warming to the latest outbreak of vaginal itch.
I’m with @DFWSteve even if I might have put it differently………..
LMAO , you fools will take anything and run with it !!!
I was downgraded once on a JFK-BOS leg, using 500-mile certs to upgrade the trans-con itinerary (this was 8 or 9 years ago). It was also a weight imbalance issue (flight less than half full), but the downgrade happened before boarding started. I was offered a $200 credit for the inconvenience, also before boarding.
Considering that it was a 30-min flight and I was able to move into an exit row with no one beside me, I think I came out ahead.
I read these responses and am a little amazed especially among frequent flyers. Are we to assume the critics would simply grab their stuff and move back with a smile? Incidentally, he did not describe himself in the attached Tweets as an NFL great or even veteran.
I thought the priority for movement was upgrades first. Assuming that these people had paid F is it possible that the process was not followed? Of course, no one argued in favor of moving this family because of their color….but should they have been provided an explanation, vouchers on the spot (and not for the difference between walk up economy and their paid F) and maybe meals? Even if everything was done perfectly optics do matter.
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Gary LeffGary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel — a topic he has covered since 2002.
Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the “World’s Top Travel Experts” by Conde’ Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »
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