Race and Identity

The NAACP calls on American Airlines to investigate recent discrimination incidents

The NAACP is calling on American Airlines to provide an update on the pending investigations involving passengers and claims of racial discrimination. Here, the American Airlines logo stands atop the American Airlines Center on Dec. 19, 2017, in Dallas.

Michael Ainsworth/AP/FR171389 AP

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Michael Ainsworth/AP/FR171389 AP

Following the news of a recent lawsuit filed by three Black men accusing American Airlines of racial discrimination, the nation’s oldest civil rights organization is calling on the airline to make some serious changes.

In a statement Tuesday from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) President and CEO Derrick Johnson, the organization is calling on American Airlines to provide an update on the open investigation into a slew of incidents involving customers and airline staff that have surfaced over the last few months.

Johnson says that, as of this week, the airline’s leadership has been silent about providing any type of update on the incidents.

“Recent discriminatory actions from company employees prove that there is a dire need for continued accountability and resolution to this clear pattern,” Johnson says.

In addition, Johnson called for the airline’s leadership to reinstate its advisory council, which investigated cases of discrimination so that all customers would have “equitable experiences” when flying on the airline.

If, however, the airline does not respond to the recent incidents and lawsuits, Johnson says the civil rights organization will be forced to reinstate an advisory against the airline.

American Airlines did not respond to NPR’s latest request for comment regarding the NAACP’s call for action.

Concerns involving instances of discrimination have followed American Airlines for several years, which resulted in the NAACP issuing an advisory warning in 2017 for Black travelers to be cautious about flying on the airline.

At the time, American’s chairman responded by saying the company does not “and will not tolerate discrimination of any kind,” and the advisory was lifted the following year. But years later, the airline would yet again, face several instances of alleged racial discrimination.

Just last month, three Black men filed a lawsuit against American Airlines, alleging they were victims of “blatant and egregious racial discrimination” after being removed from a flight.

In a lawsuit filed in federal court on May 29, the three plaintiffs — Alvin Jackson, Emmanuel Jean Joseph and Xavier Veal — say that they and five other Black male passengers were removed from an American Airlines flight from Phoenix to New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport in January “without any valid reason, based solely on their race.”

The men eventually discovered the reason behind their removal — an employee said someone complained about body odor on the plane. Jackson, Joseph and Veal say they were not told they had body odor, according to the lawsuit. The eight men did not know each other and were not seated together on the flight.

In a statement to NPR in response to the incident, American Airlines said it takes all claims of discrimination “very seriously” and wants customers to have a “positive experience” when they fly with it.

And in February, Pamela Hill-Veal, who is Black, said she was discriminated against after a flight attendant allegedly confronted her after she used the plane’s first-class restroom on a first class flight from Chicago to Phoenix.

Hill-Veal said that while on that flight, one of the American’s flight attendants stopped her as she returned to her seat — and accused her of slamming the restroom door.

“The flight attendant stopped me as I was returning to my seat and told me I ‘slammed the restroom door and I was not to do it again since passengers were sleeping on the plane,’ ” Hill-Veal said in an interview with NPR. She said she never slammed the door.

In response to Hill-Veal’s incident, American Airlines said in a statement that it had been in contact with her to learn more about her experience. But when asked whether it was considering changes in training or policy for its staff, the airline did not respond.

Johnson is encouraging the Black community to continue to “stand up and speak out” against discrimination.

“Let’s be clear— traveling while Black should not be characterized by humiliation and disparate interruptions. While we recognize a brand’s ability to evolve beyond mistakes of the past, part of that evolution includes continued accountability for any deviation from core values,” he says.