Airline apologises after black musicians 'downgraded from business class to make way for white woman'

Chloe Chaplain, Francesca Gillett
Row: The passengers said they were escorted off the Comair flight to make way for another customer whose seat broke: @murdahbongz

An airline has apologised after being accused of racism by two black musicians who claimed they were downgraded to make way for a “white woman” when her seat broke.

Music duo Black Motion said they were escorted from their business class seats on a flight in South Africa because a white female passenger needed to use them.

They said they were told to move because their business class tickets were “worth less” and described the incident as “blatant racism”.

Comair, which operates under British Airways branding in South Africa, has since apologised for the incident and said it is launching a full investigation.

The pair, whose real names are Thabo Mabogwane and Bongani Mohosana were travelling in business class on the Comair flight from Cape Town to Johannesburg.

In a post on their Instagram, Mabogwane said he and Mohosana “happened to be the only two young black men in the British Airlines business class” during the flight on Monday.

“We were embarrassed and removed from business class just because a white lady complained about her broken seat,” he added.

When they asked staff why they were being downgraded, an air hostess reportedly said they were becoming “aggressive” and the captain decided to remove them from the plane completely.

The group’s manager Tshiamo Kodisang described the incident as “blatant racism”, the Citizen reported.

The airline has since apologised to the passengers and said that they had been asked to downgrade because they had been using “discounted tickets”.

“The situation arose as two damaged business class seats were not removed from the check-in system, as should have happened,” a statement said.

“As a result two customers were checked-in and allocated seats in which they could not fly. These customers were both silver card frequent flyer members, who are prioritised as a matter of global policy.

“In considering who could be asked to downgrade, the airport staff then identified non-frequent flyers travelling on discounted business class fares. This is common airline practice on rare occasions when downgrades occur. It was on this basis that two other customers in business class were approached.”

It said the airline “will not tolerate racism” and is interviewing staff to carry out a full investigation into the complaint.

“The crew was under pressure because the flight was already delayed, but should have handled the situation better,” it added.

“We have taken the allegations very seriously and [have] investigated swiftly and thoroughly. We have asked the customers if they would like the investigation independently reviewed.”

Comair’s CEO has also written to the pair to “apologise unreservedly for the hurt this incident caused”.