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Can You Get Kicked Off a Plane for Being 'Pungent'?

By Molly Zilli, Esq. | Last updated on

Flying has become less and less of a pleasant experience. But what usually makes the biggest difference between a tolerable experience and one that causes you to question your faith in humanity, is the other humans on board. Some are delightful, but others have a special penchant for being astoundingly rude.

It appears that one woman and her children had to deal with the latter type as they made their way from Nigeria to Canada, by way of the States. According to her lawsuit, she was kicked off her flight in Houston, TX after a male passenger complained of her pungent odor. She says the real reason was racial discrimination.

Passenger Took Her Seat, Blocked Her Path

The Nigerian woman, named Queen Obioma, was traveling to Ontario from Nigeria by way of Houston and San Francisco. On the Houston-San Francisco leg of the trip, she says she boarded the plane to find a white man sitting in her business-class seat. He refused to move and she eventually agreed to take his assigned seat nearby. But when she returned from the bathroom at one point, the man was blocking the aisle. According to the lawsuit, a United employee then told her to step off the plane. Her children were kicked off the plane as well.

She was told that the pilot called for her to be removed because of a complaint from the same man on the plane. They explained that he said he wasn't comfortable flying with her because she had a "pungent" smell. Obioma and her family were put on another flight five hours later, but they missed scheduled appointments as they were traveling to Ontario to enroll in school.

Removal Motivated by Racial Prejudice

So, according to this account, you can get kicked of a United plane for being 'pungent,' though it's not entirely clear what type of odor we're talking about. However, Obioma's lawsuit claims that the real reason she and her children were kicked off their flight was racial prejudice. "United has no legitimate reason or justification to remove (Obioma) from the flight but for racial prejudice and insulted (her) by stating that Ms. Obioma stank," the lawsuit reads. She is seeking damages in excess of $75,000. United has not issued a comment on the matter.

Racism, like pungent odors, has many manifestations. If you think you were the victim of racial discrimination, contact an attorney to assess the strength of your case as well as your legal options.

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