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NAACP Threatens to Reinstate Travel Advisory Against American Airlines

The airline is being sued for racial discrimination.

Three Black passengers filed a lawsuit against American Airlines last week, alleging racial discrimination after flight crew removed them and five other Black men from a flight. Now the NAACP is demanding that the airline respond not only to this incident, but a growing list of allegations.

In the lawsuit, the passengers allege that an American Airlines staff member complained of body odor and asked eight Black men to exit the plane. They were not seated together and didn’t know each other. 

Other claims of racial discrimination have been alleged by passengers of color over the last several years.

On February 10, retired circuit coach judge Pamela Hill-Veal was flying first class from Chicago to Phoenix with her family when she says that a flight attendant repeatedly berated her for slamming the bathroom door and later asked her to use the coach bathroom. The flight attendant also accused Hill-Veal of hitting him, which she says is a fabrication.

“I’m still uncomfortable about flying because I don’t know what they’re going to say that I did…in an attempt to cover up for what they did during this particular time,” Hill-Veal told NPR in April.

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In October 2023, musician David Ryan Harris was flying with his two biracial children when a flight attendant suspected Harris of child trafficking. The party of three were met by police officers after landing and the children were asked if they were okay. Harris filed a complaint with the airline after the incident and only received an apology when he publicly demanded action. 

In another high-profile case in 2023, rapper Talib Kweli was asked to leave a plane after an altercation with a flight attendant. Athlete Sha’Carri Richardson and NFL star Odell Beckham Jr. were also removed by American Airlines staff in 2023 and 2022, respectively.  

The NAACP said that these reports convey a “troubling pattern of a failure to address harmful behaviors.” 

American Airlines has opened an investigation into the most recent incident involving the eight passengers and, in a statement, said that it takes all claims of discrimination very seriously. But the NAACP demanded an urgent response from company leadership.

Derrick Johnson, NAACP President and CEO, said in a statement that there is a need for continued accountability and resolution in the wake of discriminatory actions. “Without a swift and decisive response, the NAACP will be forced to reinstate an advisory against the airline.”

It’s not an empty threat. In 2017, the organization issued a travel advisory against American Airlines after a series of hostile actions targeted Black passengers. The organization cited four incidents on American Airlines, including one in which a passenger was asked to give up their seat, and another where a Black passenger was downgraded from first class to coach. The NAACP called out the “troublesome conduct” by staff members and warned that passengers’ safety may be compromised when flying with the airline.

The advisory was lifted in 2018 after American Airlines worked with the organization on measures including online and classroom training of employees, and the creation of a special team to handle discrimination claims.

“The removal of our travel advisory in 2018 came as a result of [American Airlines’] commitment to deliver on key stipulations that would prevent future discriminatory acts, one of which was a diversity, equity, and inclusion advisory council,” Johnson said in a statement. “Amidst the resurgence of attacks on DEI [diversity, equity, and inclusion], American Airlines disbanded the panel in 2023.” 

The NAACP advised the airline to revive the advisory panel and devise a path forward with the organization to address these concerns.