Apparently, some players in the aviation industry have not learned from the public relations fiasco through which United Airlines suffered earlier this year after the violent removal of a customer who refused to give up his seat on an overbooked flight. The passenger was an Asian-American doctor, and the company went through the wringer on social media platforms such as Twitter.
The NAACP felt it necessary to issue a travel advisory warning for African-Americans over their “safety and well being” in the event they travel aboard American Airlines.
The NAACP said it had been monitoring a pattern of what the civil rights group described as repeated incidents of discrimination from the airline as reported by black customers. Until further notice, customers are warned that they should “exercise caution, in that booking and boarding flights on American Airlines could subject them disrespectful, discriminatory or unsafe conditions.”
The incidents include an African-American man who was forced to give up his seat on a flight out of Washington, D.C. after he responded to discriminatory comments lobbed at him from two white passengers; an African-American woman who was switched to an economy class seat even though she purchased a first-class ticket while her white traveling companion was able to keep her seat in the premium-level cabin; an African-American woman flying out of New York was kicked off a flight by a pilot after she claimed that her seat assignment was changed without her consent; another African-American woman was removed from a flight after she requested the stroller for her child be retrieved before disembarking the plane.
“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 in a public statement.
In a press release, Fort Worth-based American Airlines said it was “disappointed” to learn about the NAACP’s travel advisory. In a message to company employees, the company’s CEO, Doug Parker, said, “As we work through this in concert with the NAACP, please keep doing the great and noble work you always do: Treat our customers and each other with respect.”
Parker also said that the airline had reached out to the NAACP and said it would meet with the organization in order to listen to its concerns.
According to the Washington Post, the NAACP’s travel advisory is a “wake-up call” to American companies. The group’s former CEO, Ben Jealous, told reporter Tracy Jan that the strategy of travel advisories was more effective than expensive litigation. As research organizations such as Nielsen issue data showing that black Americans are increasingly a group of consumers that should not ignored, the NAACP figures that calling out brands can nudge companies to change their culture can pay dividends, as in equal and respectful treatment – especially as younger African-Americans are wielding their influence via social media. Airbnb is one example of a travel company that was forced to revamp its policies after a similar backlash against discriminatory practices festered on Twitter last year.
Earlier this summer, the NAACP issued a similar advisory directed at the state of Missouri after the organization said a pattern of racially charged incidents made the move necessary in order to ensure the safety of black travelers. The August advisory was widely reported as one of the first such advisories targeting a specific U.S. state.
In the meantime, the NAACP is encouraging travelers to share similar experiences they have endured when flying American or other air carriers.
Image credit: Ian Gratton/Wiki Commons
Leon Kaye has written for TriplePundit since 2010, and became its Executive Editor in 2018. He's based in Fresno, CA, from where he happily explores California’s stellar Central Coast and the national parks in the Sierra Nevadas. He's worked an lived in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay, and has traveled to over 70 countries. He's an alum of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California.