Teacher and Space Camp attendee claims discrimination from airline in Huntsville

American Airlines is currently investigating the incident.

Posted: Jul 29, 2021 11:18 PM
Updated: Jul 30, 2021 1:57 PM

A trip to Huntsville, tainted by an experience at the airport. Sabrina Suluai-Mahuka was named the American Samoa Teacher of the Year.

She, alongside other honorees attended Space Camp and spent the week exploring the Rocket City. She said she was on a "joyous high" leaving Huntsville. That is until an interaction at the Huntsville International Airport with American Airlines.

She said she was treated differently than her white colleague, describing it as discrimination.

"The week at Space Camp was phenomenal," Suluai-Mahuka said. "I was surrounded by amazing people, amazing educators, who just kinda filled the room with so many great ideas."

For Suluai-Mahuka, she always considered herself a strong and independent person. She identifies as Chinese and Samoan Filipino. But what she experienced Monday night at Huntsville International Airport with American Airlines had her feeling small and insignificant.

"What I'm here for is to push for a change," Suluai-Mahuka said.

She said her flight was cancelled due to severe weather. When she and her AAPI colleague approached the airline about possible overnight accommodations, she was told they would not provide any due to their policy.

However, within minutes, Anthony Coy-Gonzalez, her white, male colleague had a different experience. He was on the same flight that was cancelled. When he spoke to the same representatives with the airline, they booked him a hotel, ride to the hotel, and gave him a food voucher.

"It seemed to me like, walking in with my privilege as a white male, it seems like that may have been the only distinguishing factor for how I was treated in relation to how my two AAPI colleagues were treated," Coy-Gonzalez said.

It was a day later when she worked up the courage to share her experience online, tagging the airline and airport. She said she always taught her students to stand up against ignorance and felt it was important to take this stand herself.

"I realized that I have the obligation to actually speak out so that this systemic discrimination can be changed," Suluai-Mahuka said.

Gonzalez said he wanted to make sure she felt supported as she shares her story.

"She's stepping up on behalf of herself, and of her students and her colleagues," He said. "It's a very powerful model for all our children because I think the fight we're in right now, it's not just about Sabrina, it's about our kids."

WAAY 31 reached out to American Airlines. A spokesperson said they are continuing to investigate the situation and have reached out directly to Suluai-Mahuka to apologize and offer a reimbursement for hotel-related expenses.

She said she was pleased with how quickly the airline reached out, but is waiting to see what other action is taken. She was told she should know what comes out of the investigation within a week.

"I can put up with okay, we don't do that accommodation, you know and if that was for everyone, entirely different story," She said. "But however, that wasn't the case and for me to hear that and be thrown in my face like that 20 minutes after being denied, it was very hurtful."

WAAY 31 also reached out to Huntsville International Airport. A spokeswoman said she learned of the incident through social media and the airport has not been contacted by any passengers.

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