ABC11 Exclusive: Passenger involved in NC NAACP president's flight removal shares his story

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Sunday, April 17, 2016
Passenger involved in Barber flight removal speaks out
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A passenger talks to ABC11 about Rev. William Barber being asked to leave a plane headed to RDU

RALEIGH (WTVD) -- A passenger who says he was involved in the incident that got North Carolina NAACP President William Barber removed from a flight Friday night is sharing his side of the story.

The incident started after 10 p.m. on a flight to Raleigh-Durham International Airport from Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport.

RELATED: NC NAACP president removed from flight to RDU

Rev. Barber and the passenger, who asked ABC11 not to identify him, both confirm they exchanged words on the plane over an accusation concerning the volume of the man's conversation with another passenger in the row behind the NC NAACP president.

In a statement released Saturday evening, Barber said he was tired as he boarded the plane and had sat down in the two seats he purchased due to a bone fusion arthritic disability.

Read the full statement from Rev. William Barber.

"Stewardess comes up, questions him about his seat arrangements because he had two seats, had paid for two seats," the passenger told ABC11 Sunday. "Shortly after that ... seemingly that he actually had both those seats, he calls the stewardess back over."

"He calls the stewardess back over and says 'These guys behind me are talking way too loud, and could you please tell him to keep it down,'" the passenger recalled. "He could have turned around and said it nicely to me, instead of calling the stewardess up and making a little, small scene about it. That kind of aggravated me a little bit."

Barber explained in his statement that, "because of my disability, I could not turn my head to see him, but as she left, I heard him saying distasteful and disparaging things about me."

"In hindsight, I could have handled the situation a whole lot better," the passenger explained. "So I proceeded to talk a little bit louder, and said something about him - words like 'I can't stand those types of people who would call someone over and say something to the stewardess,' rather than turning around and saying something to me."

"I felt a little bit disrespected, and so after I said 'I don't like those kinds of people,' he must have taken it out of context, in the wrong context. And that's when he stood up and turned around, and started arguing with me and saying. 'I haven't been able to walk in 14 years. I paid for both of these seats,'" the passenger said. "I said, 'That's great. I'm happy that you're able to be up and moving around again. That's awesome.' I was pretty much over the confrontation, I didn't want anything to do with it."

Barber detailed a similar account of the exchange.

"He had problems with 'those people' and he spoke harshly about my need for 'two seats,' among other subjects," Barber said. "As I heard those things, I became more and more uncomfortable, especially since he was behind me."

Barber explained that because of his disability he had to stand up and turn around in order to speak directly to the other man - telling the passenger he did not know him or his condition, and he would pray for him.

"At this time the stewardess had already walked up and asked him to please sit down, back in his seat," the passenger said. "He grabbed her wrist, and she immediately backed away and he sat down. A couple minutes later, the officer came onto the flight."

Barber was then escorted off the plane, which returned to the gate, according to American Airline officials.

The NC NAACP president told ABC11 that American Airlines gave him a voucher for a flight the next day, and its departure time. He said that in his view, everyone involved in the decision to remove him from the plane was embarrassed by it.

Meanwhile, the passenger involved in the incident said that if he had the chance to talk with Barber face-to-face, he would apologize.

"I'd apologize to him. I was definitely out of line," the man said. "And I hope he would do the same for me and apologize, saying he was also out of line."

Rev. Barber has said he only wanted to be treated fairly that night.

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