Racism on Qantas?
Aboriginal men sue Qantas after being kicked off plane
Updated 25 minutes ago
A group of eight Aboriginal men are suing Qantas after they were thrown off a flight and told they would not be allowed to travel in a big group.
The men were on their way home from a two-day Indigenous leadership program in Cairns which was funded by the Federal Government.
One of the men, Michael Edwards, is an elder of the Dunghutti people from Kempsey on the mid north coast of New South Wales.
It has been nearly three years since Reconciliation Week, when he and seven others were thrown off the Qantas flight before it left Sydney.
But sitting on his pool deck, reflecting on what happened, he says it is an encounter he cannot get out of his head.
“I think we were discriminated against by Qantas because there was only eight Aboriginal people on the plane,” he said.
He and the seven other men are suing Qantas for damages, accusing the airline of false imprisonment.
Many of the men had never left Kempsey before let alone flown on a plane.
Mr Edwards says soon after they boarded the flight, security guards were called to remove them.
“They weren’t doing nothing. Not a thing at all. Just had the headphones in just listening to a bit of music just bopping, that’s all,” he said.
The men were allegedly taken to a bus which was parked on the tarmac and locked in for an hour-and-a-half.
One of the men, Craig Edwards, says they were told they could not leave, even to go to the toilet.
“We were on the bus for an hour, two hours, like little dogs we was, they just had us like dogs on a bus,” he said.
It is alleged the men were then escorted by Federal Police back to the terminal and told they would have to catch a flight the following morning.
Michael Edwards says he was humiliated.
“People were looking at us. Giggling and you know. I felt like a criminal, like I’d done something really bad and we did nothing wrong,” he said.
Mr Edwards says they were told they could not travel as a group but would have to fly in pairs, on separate flights, two hours apart.
Instead they chose to hire a car and drive back to Kempsey through the night.
Craig Edwards missed the birth of his first grandchild.
“I hate Qantas. I don’t think I will ever fly with them. Like I said I wanted to go to more programs but I can’t now because I won’t get on a plane,” he said.
‘Uncomfortable and threatened’
Qantas’s version of events is very different.
In an affidavit, flight attendant Kelly Kalimnios says the men were behaving in a rowdy and boisterous manner.
She said one of the men told her: “F*** off you f****** white trash.”
She says they ignored her requests to calm down.
Ms Kalimnios says she called the captain and told him: “I’m feeling uncomfortable and threatened. They will have to get off or I’m getting off.”
Michael Edwards says Qantas is lying.
His version of events is backed up by federal independent MP Rob Oakeshott who was also on the flight.
“From everything I saw they were behaving no different to anyone else who is a bit excited about catching a plane,” he said.
“It was an extremely heavy-handed response to some actions which, from where I was sitting and where my chief of staff was sitting, we thought was certainly over the top.
“I think that would be the reaction of most people that were on the flight.”
The case is set down for hearing in Sydney in August.
In a statement Qantas said it was “defending these claims in court, and as such, we won’t be commenting on the specifics of this case.
“Broadly speaking, Qantas has a zero-tolerance policy towards behaviour it believes could compromise the safety of anyone on our aircraft.
“This policy is applied equally to all passengers.”