Ryanair sought to deflect criticism Friday about its handling of a racially charged dispute on one of its flights by releasing letters showing that it swiftly apologized to the victim and referred the matter to police.
Europe’s biggest discount carrier said in letters to victim that it “will not tolerate unruly behavior” and that the matter had been reported to police at London’s Stansted Airport. The incident took place Friday at Barcelona Airport before the plane departed for Stansted, and British police are expected to hand over the results of their inquiry to Spanish authorities.
The move came as the man who directed racial slurs at a fellow passenger denied being a racist and apologized to the woman he berated. David Mesher told Britain’s ITV News that the dispute with 77-year-old Delsie Gayle began as he tried to get to his seat.
“I probably lost my temper a bit and ordered her to get up,” he said, adding that he “absolutely” regrets his behavior. “I’m not a racist person by any means and it’s just a fit of temper at the time, I think.”
The interview is the first time Mesher has spoken publicly about the incident, in which he told Gayle, among other things, not to speak to him “in a foreign language, you stupid ugly cow.” He told ITV he had spoken to police in Birmingham, where he lives.
The ramifications of the incident continued to simmer as some passengers have called for a boycott of Ryanair because the victim was moved to another seat and the airline didn’t remove Mesher from the plane.
Ryanair said it wanted to set the record straight on its response to the incident, reporting that crew members were aware of an argument but only learned of the racist nature of the comments after being shown the video upon landing at Stansted.
“As the cabin crew believed they were dealing with an argument between two passengers, they followed company procedure, to defuse the argument, and separate the passengers by offering to move one to alternative seating,” Ryanair said in a statement.
The female passenger was moved at her request to a seat next to her daughter, Ryanair said. Both passengers then said they were “okay.”
“As far as the cabin crew were concerned, that was the end of the matter, and since there was no threat to aircraft safety, the issue of offloading one passenger did not arise,” the airline said.
Loizos Heracleous, an expert on airlines at the Warwick Business School, said the statement showed that Ryanair realized it had to condemn this sort of behavior in any situation, including their own flights.
“Service excellence is not Ryanair’s forte (efficiency is),” Heracleous said in an email. “With that focus, unfortunately the company and, in this case the crew, may not be as sensitized to instances of abusive behavior as they should be and may not take the right actions immediately when it occurs. Hopefully Ryanair will realize from the strength of the public response that they should up their game in this area.”