Sydney (AFP) — Australia’s Qantas on Monday rejected accusations of in-flight racism from US performer will.i.am, with the airline saying it would back legal action against the Black Eyed Peas frontman.
The multiple Grammy-winning artist had lashed out at a Qantas flight attendant and named her on Twitter after she called the police over an altercation during a flight from Brisbane to Sydney.
In his tweets, the star said the crew member had been “overly aggressive” and unnecessarily escalated the situation after he didn’t hear an on-board safety briefing because he was wearing headphones.
Using the hashtag #RacistFlightAttendant, he said she was “beyond rude” and “took it to the next level by calling the police”, five of whom were waiting for him when the 90-minute flight landed on Saturday.
“Thank god the other passengers testified that SHE was out of control,” tweeted William Adams, better known by his stage name will.i.am, adding that the police had “finally” let him go.
He said he had complied “quickly & politely” with instructions from the woman to put his laptop away.
“I don’t want to believe she racist. But she has clearly aimed all her frustrations only at the people of colour,” he wrote.
A spokesman for the Australian flag carrier said Qantas “completely” rejected the suggestion that race was a factor in the incident.
“There was a misunderstanding on board, which seems to have been exacerbated by will.i.am wearing noise-cancelling headphones and not being able to hear instructions from crew,” he said.
The airline initially said over the weekend that it would be “following up with will.i.am and wish him well for the rest of the tour”.
But on Monday a spokesman said the airline would be willing to support legal action against the star.
“Absent a retraction, and if the crew member wanted to take the matter further, we’d certainly be willing to provide legal support for them to do this,” he said.
Australia has extremely strict defamation laws and courts routinely rule in favour of those claiming reputational damage.
Black Eyed Peas ended a five-city Australia tour with a concert in Sydney on Saturday.
The incident came two months after Australian twin-sister pop duo The Veronicas were removed from a Qantas flight by police after a disagreement with staff over luggage.