Victoria resident says WestJet employee uttered racist comment, refused to let her on plane

Customer claims she was told ‘You guys can’t handle your alcohol’ by WestJet employee

Victoria resident Nikki Sanchez posted to her Instagram on Monday that she was racially profiled by a WestJet employee when she attempted to board a flight at Victoria International Airport on Jan. 15.

Sanchez, who has more than 14,700 Instagram followers, is a University of Victoria PhD candidate in Indigenous Governance and is known for her work as a producer of Vice media news films. She’s also an advocate for Indigenous rights and identifies with her Indigenous heritage.

View this post on Instagram

Please SHARE. Last week, during the snow storm I was flying out of YYJ to Vancouver to reach my connecting flight to New York. I was on my way there for a campaign on fair trade and environmentally sustainable fashion. After 5 weather delays I went back through security to speak to the @westjet attendant at checkin, to see if I was going to make my connecting flight to YVR & if not whether she could help me trouble shoot to find alternate solution. She took one look at me, did not ask for my name or flight number, and instead she asked if I had been drinking – I honestly replied that I had had 2 drinks in the 5 hours I’d been waiting for the flight. She said “you smell like booze” and “I know you guys can’t handle your alcohol”. I was so shocked I barely knew how to respond – I explained my credentials and that I was not at all inebriated. I then asked for her to at least help me find an alternative flight to get to YVR so I would not miss my connection to NYC. Her response was that I was a liability to any airline, including WestJet. She refused to help me at all, nor did she make any mention of how I could retrieve my luggage which had already been sent through to YVR. I was in complete shock. At the departing gates, I told an Air Canada representative what happened, he was appalled & got me on the next Air Canada flight to YVR. Sadly by the time I got there I’d missed my connecting and there were no other flights that would get me to NYC in time to make the photo shoot. I have since spoken to the customer complaints at WestJet, other than “sincere apologies” they offered no recourse. I have spoken to lawyers & media & also spent a few days having anxiety attacks (the girl who said this to me was the only WestJet attendant working so even though I asked to speak to a manger there wasn’t one there). WestJet needs to know what a serious matter this is & commit to anti-oppression training for all staff. Please repost this to your story, feed or twitter, and share. Tag @westjet and use the hashtag #boycottwestjet – it’s my sincere hope no one else will ever be treated this way based on racial bias. Thank you – I appreciate you all so much 🙌🏽

A post shared by Nikki La'es (@nikkilaes) on

Sanchez said she was flying from Victoria airport in North Saanich to Vancouver and would then connect for a flight to New York to campaign on fair trade and environmentally sustainable fashion.

READ ALSO: Indigenous women over-represented in Vancouver Police checks, say rights advocates

While waiting five hours for five weather delays, Sanchez visited the bar where she says she consumed two drinks.

“I went back through security to speak to the WestJet attendant at check-in, to see if I was going to make my connecting flight to [Vancouver]…” Sanchez said. “She took one look at me, did not ask for my name or flight number, and instead she asked if I had been drinking – I honestly replied that I had had two drinks.

“She said ‘You smell like booze,’ and ‘I know you guys can’t handle your alcohol,’” Sanchez wrote. “I was so shocked I barely knew how to respond – I explained my credentials and that I was not at all inebriated.”

Sanchez said the attendant would not assist her in finding an alternative flight to get to Vancouver and that Sanchez was a liability to any airline, including WestJet.

READ ALSO: Victoria’s reconciliation dialogue on newcomers, Indigenous peoples takes place Monday

“She refused to help me at all, nor did she make any mention of how I could retrieve my luggage which had already been sent through to YVR.”

In shock, Sanchez reached out to an Air Canada who was able to find a spot for her on their next flight to Vancouver.

“By the time I got there I’d missed my connecting and there were no other flights that would get me to NYC in time to make the photo shoot.”

WestJet responded in a statement to the Black Press Media that they have launched an investigation into the matter and have a zero-tolerance policy for racism and discrimination.

“While the investigation remains ongoing, we have evidence that significantly contradicts the version of events that has been reported by the guest,” said the statement, shared by WestJet spokesperson Morgan Bell. “Firstly, we apologize for the interruption to all our guests’ travel plans that were affected by a weather event in Victoria on Jan. 15 … these circumstances led to this guest failing to present themselves at a WestJet gate for boarding and subsequently missing their flight.”

Bell added that WestJet runs annual workplace training for sensitivity and respect. She added they’ve been unable to reach Sanchez since she made the Instagram post on Sunday.

Sanchez reported having suffered anxiety attacks since the incident. She’s pushing a #boycottWestJet hashtag with hopes of building awareness around the incident.

“WestJet needs to know what a serious matter this is and commit to anti-oppression training for all staff. It’s my sincere hope no one else will ever be treated this way based on racial bias,” she said.

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