(KRON) – Five-time NFL Pro Bowler Hardy Nickerson Sr. believes he and his family were racially profiled on an American Airlines flight, he told KRON4 News in an exclusive interview. Nickerson says it happened on a flight from Charlotte to San Francisco on Tuesday. The airline has also responded to the incident.

Nickerson, his wife Amy, and his son Hardy Nickerson Jr., were seated in their first-class seats, and they say the gate agent told them they had to move to coach. 

“I said, ‘Why us? Why didn’t you start with the first row and work your way back? We bought a first-class ticket, what’s this about?’” Nickerson Sr. said. 

Amy Nickerson said that the family was told the plane was over-fueled and was therefore too heavy. As a result, the pilot determined there was too much weight in first class, and the family was asked to move back to coach. 

They say they were never seated in coach to begin with, and being the only Black passengers seated in first class, Amy Nickerson says believes they were singled out because of their race.

“What about some kind of democratic process? Why not the people over there? Why not row three or the other people? It was like being booted off of survivor island and we didn’t understand how this process went down,” she said. 

Hardy Nickerson Jr. says it became a very uncomfortable situation as other passengers began to stare in their direction.

“I felt terrible. I felt less than. Made me feel humiliated. Embarrassed. Just was not a great experience,” he said.

Officials at American Airlines say when a situation like this occurs, the airline uses an automated system with an algorithm that identifies customers who need to be reseated so that the plane can safely depart. However, the attorney representing the Nickerson family is not buying it.

“I know the pattern of discrimination,” said Waukeen McCoy, who represents the family. “The family was basically singled out and treated this way because the person who came on board to tell them to move was racially profiling them, and it’s very clear because there were white passengers in the first-class section that were not asked to move.”

KRON4 reached out to American Airlines to give them an opportunity to be a part of this conversation. They sent the following statement that read:

“We aim to provide a positive travel experience for all our customers. A member of our team has reached out to the Nickerson family to learn more about their experience and address their concerns.”  

In the midst of the commotion, other passengers volunteered to relocate so the Nickerson family could complete their travel in first class, but not without the situation taking an emotional toll. 

Hardy Nickerson Sr. is the current head coach of Bishop O’Dowd’s high school football team in Oakland. He had a distinguished NFL career, making five Pro Bowls and the NFL’s All-Decade Second Team for the 1990s at linebacker. Hardy Nickerson Jr. played five seasons in the NFL as well.

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Nickerson Sr. says he and his family have flown first-class all over the country for years.

“This situation was unlike any situation I have ever experienced,” he said. 

He shared what happened in a series of tweets because the family feels it is important to share their story for the benefit of others.

“We don’t want anyone else to have to go through this,” Nickerson Jr. said.