Qantas urges rapper will.i.am to withdraw racism accusation against staffer

Will.i.am speaks at Gates Foundation Goalkeepers event in New York

MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Australia's flagship airline, Qantas, said on Monday it stood ready to offer legal assistance to a member of its flight crew named in a racism accusation by Black Eyed Peas rapper will.i.am on social media.

The U.S. singer had taken a flight about 1-1/2-hours long to Sydney, Australia's most populous city, from northeastern Brisbane to play at a concert on Saturday, but was met by Australian federal police at the arrival gate.

He said on Twitter he was racially targeted by an airline attendant, whom he identified by name, after failing to put away his laptop as the flight prepared to land, because he had put on noise-cancelling headphones to "make beats".

Qantas, which called the incident a "misunderstanding", has requested the rapper to retract his statement.

"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," a spokesman told Reuters in a statement.

Police confirmed they spoke to crew and passengers at the airport, but said no further action was required. "The Australian Federal Police considers this matter finalised," they said in a statement.

On Saturday, will.i.am said in a post on Twitter, "Is calling the police on a passenger for not hearing (the) P.A. due to wearing noise-cancelling headphones appropriate?"

He added, "If didn’t put away my laptop 'in a rapid 2min time' I’d understand. I did comply quickly & politely, only to be greeted by police. I think I was targeted."

As of Monday, will.i.am had not made any retraction on social media, even as other commenters pointed out that the crew member he identified had received threats on social media as a result.

He pointed out that if he were rude to a fan or journalist, he would be publicly named.

"This is what Twitter is for...we are supposed to call out wrongdoings so we can have a safer, more compassionate world," will.i.am said.

Reuters was not able to contact the rapper through his agency, and he did not immediately respond to a request for comment on social media.


(Reporting by Melanie Burton; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)