Cautioning African Americans to not fly American Airlines

NAACP-American Airlines

An American Airlines jet taxis to the gate at Miami International Airport.

The NAACP is cautioning African American travelers to beware and possibly not fly on American Airlines after a “pattern of disturbing incidents” reported by passengers. The travel advisory notes that four African American flyers reported unfair treatment while on American, the world’s largest airline.

In the advisory, issued Tuesday night, the NAACP urged African Americans “to exercise caution, in that booking and boarding flights on American Airlines could subject them to disrespectful, discriminatory, or unsafe conditions.”

American operates 6,700 flights a day, including 390 at Philadelphia International Airport, which is a hub for the Fort Worth, Texas-based carrier.

In citing the four recent incidents in which African American passengers reported discrimination by American, NAACP officials did not list flight numbers, dates, names of passengers, or cities involved in every case.

In a statement Wednesday to American’s 100,000 employees, CEO Doug Parker said the airline was “disappointed to learn” of the travel advisory. American does not “tolerate discrimination of any kind” and has reached out to the NAACP to meet to “listen to their issues and concerns.”

In the four incidents cited by the NAACP in its statement:

  • An unidentified woman reported that she was ordered removed by the pilot on her flight from Miami to New York after she complained to the gate agent that her seat assignment was changed without her consent.
  • A Boston mother reported that she and her infant child were removed from a flight from Atlanta to New York when the woman, “incidentally a Harvard Law School student,” the NAACP said, asked that her stroller be retrieved from the checked-baggage area before she would get off the plane. The plane returned to the Atlanta terminal after a five-hour delay.
  • A man said he was required to relinquish his purchased seats on a flight from Washington, D.C., to Raleigh-Durham, N.C., because he responded to “disrespectful and discriminatory comments directed toward him by two unruly white passengers.”
  • A woman who booked first-class tickets for herself and a traveling companion said she was switched to the coach section at the ticket counter, while her white companion remained assigned to a first-class seat.

“In light of these confrontations, we have today taken the action of issuing a national advisory alerting travelers — especially African Americans — to exercise caution,” Derrick Johnson, NAACP president and CEO in the statement.

“The growing list of incidents suggesting racial bias reflects an unacceptable corporate culture and involves behavior that cannot be dismissed as normal or random,” Johnson said. “We expect an audience with the leadership of American Airlines to air these grievances and to spur corrective action. Until these and other concerns are addressed, this national travel advisory will stand.”

American’s Parker said in an employee email:  “Of all the really important things our team members do — and that list is long — bringing people together is at the top. We fly over borders, walls and stereotypes to connect people from different races, religions, nationalities, economic backgrounds and sexual orientations. We make the world a smaller, more inclusive place. And we do it professionally and safely every day for more than 500,000 customers across five continents.”

“As we work through this in concert with the NAACP,” Parker said, “please keep doing the great and noble work you always do: treat our customers and each other with respect; connect diverse groups of people with each other and allow them to see the world; make the world a smaller and more open place; and do it professionally and safely.”

In its statement, the NAACP said that it “deplores such alarming behavior on the part of airline personnel. We are aware of these incidents only because the passengers involved knew their rights, knew to speak up, and exercised the courage to do so promptly.”

The NAACP said it has issued travel advisories in the past when “conditions on the ground pose a substantial risk of harm to black Americans, and we are concerned today that the examples cited herein may represent only the ‘tip of the iceberg’ when it comes to American Airlines’’ documented mistreatment of African American customers.”

In August, the NAACP issued a travel advisory for the state of Missouri in aftermath of high-profile incidents of police brutality.

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