American Airlines Leads U.S. Carriers in Passenger Complaints of RacismBy , , and
Government data shows 29 passenger complaints in 20 months
NAACP says incidents suggest ‘culture of racial insensitivity’
American Airlines passengers have filed 29 complaints of racial discrimination in the last 20 months, the most of any airline flying in the U.S., according to data compiled by the U.S. Department of Transportation.
While air travelers are often unhappy, American’s treatment of African-American passengers has recently come under particular scrutiny. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People on Tuesday issued a "travel advisory" for the airline, citing four incidents that, it says, “suggest a corporate culture of racial insensitivity and possible racial bias.” Some Twitter users have also been critical of experiences with American, using the hashtags #Happened2MeOnAA and #FlyingWhileBlack.
On a quarterly conference call with investors today, American Chief Executive Officer Doug Parker addressed the NAACP’s announcement and reiterated the company’s commitment to diversity. “Discrimination, exclusion and unconscious biases are enormous problems that no one has mastered, and we would never suggest that we have it all figured out either,” Parker said. “We want to keep learning and we want to be even better.”
Tamika Mallory, one of the organizers of the Women’s March, has become a high-profile critic of the airline. She was kicked off an American Airlines flight -- unfairly, she says -- after a seating dispute last week. On Twitter, she wrote that it wasn’t a one-time incident and said she was “asking for policy changes for ALL of us.”
Other Twitter users described not being let onto purchased flights by gate agents and being punched in the chest by a flight attendant. One user, who said he is a young black Muslim man, said an attendant reported him to authorities because he had a hood on.
“These are very rare events when they happen,” Parker said Thursday. “Sometimes we do have issues with our customers. We take responsibility for that. There is no major trend going on in that regard.”
American Airlines spokeswoman Shannon Gilson said in an email that Mallory had been invited to meet with members of the executive team at the company’s headquarters.
Among American’s largest rivals, United Continental Holdings Inc. had the next-highest number of complaints at 17. There were 9 complaints each at Delta Air Lines Inc., the second-largest airline, and Southwest Airlines Co., which flies the largest number of domestic passengers, according to the data.
One of the oldest civil rights organizations in the U.S., the NAACP called for a meeting with the airline to discuss its concerns, and Parker said he welcomes the opportunity to work with the NAACP. “Indeed, we are excited about it and enthusiastic to sit down and listen and learn together,” he said Thursday morning.
American Airlines Group Inc. said it has invited representatives of the organization to company headquarters in Fort Worth, Texas and expects to begin working together soon. Parker is also one of hundreds of CEOs who have signed a pledge agreeing to encourage business to do more to support diversity.
The NAACP cautioned African-American travelers Tuesday that “booking and boarding flights on American Airlines could subject them to disrespectful, discriminatory or unsafe conditions.” The organization in August also issued a travel advisory for the state of Missouri, the group’s first for a state, citing a “series of questionable, race-based incidents.”
There is a history of black travelers sharing information about safe travel. First published in 1936, "The Negro Motorist Green Book" listed businesses that were friendly to and would serve black customers when they were traveling through the Southern U.S. and other parts of the country. It was last printed in the mid-1960s and remained popular through the Civil Rights Era.
— With assistance by Justin Bachman