Among the indignities Black Americans endure on a daily basis, #FlyingWhileBlack is becoming increasingly documented. Whether it's white passengers being accommodated because they didn’t want to sit next to a Black kid, or Black doctors snubbed during airplane emergencies, the hashtag has ebbed and flowed on Twitter for countless reasons. Just last month, one airline was accused of kicking a passenger off a flight for wearing a Black Lives Matter T-shirt.
And while U.S. air carriers have a longstanding reputation for not quite listening to their passengers’ concerns, there is more evidence that they are beginning to respond — and not just over mask requirements or change fees. Black travelers have made it clear they should be able to be themselves, and express themselves, however they wish while they are in flight. Despite the relentless pressure of “cancel culture” flaring up on social media, two airlines in particular have shown U.S. companies examples of how to stand up for the Black Lives Matter movement.
American Airlines, which only a month ago was accused of removing Arlinda Johns from a flight for wearing a Black Lives matter T-shirt, made a small gesture by allowing employees to wear Black Lives Matter pins designed by its Black employees group. But without even trying, the airline also launched a gift that keeps giving by exposing the hypocrisy of people who are quick to scream “cancel culture,” only now to find themselves crying out to cancel American Airlines.
In a widely reported public statement, an airline spokeswoman, Sarah Jantz, explained: “Fundamentally, we believe Black Lives Matter is an expression of equality, not a political statement. It doesn’t mean other lives don’t matter, rather that in our society Black lives should matter and be valued the same as others.”
The airline says it also supports employees sporting pins that identify them as or show allyship with groups such as Christians, LGBTQ people and veterans.
Naturally, the backlash on Twitter was fast. One of the standout examples was a tweet describing American Airlines, which made $1.2 billion in baggage fees during 2018, as supporting a “dangerous, anti-American Marxists [sic] organization.”
Others responded in kind, with comments such as, “You weren’t flying anywhere anyway, so now there’s more room up without you racists.”
The debate over how much a pin can really add to the Black Lives Matter movement aside, this episode is a small step forward for American Airlines. Just a few years ago, the company was the target of a travel advisory from the NAACP after a slew of stories alleging discriminatory treatment toward Black passengers.
American Airlines isn’t the only carrier appearing to increasingly back its words with deeds. In a recent Facebook post, a Delta Air Lines passenger, Demetria Poe, described an ugly incident she had on board a flight from Minneapolis to Washington, D.C. to join the recent Commitment March. After the incident, in which she says she was the target of an unsolicited “Blue Lives Matter” rant by a passenger seated next to her, the airline informed her that her seatmate was on a no-fly list, she was upgraded on her return flight, and she scored a bag of Delta swag that included a Black Lives Matter pin.
In the years after 9/11, airlines have often had a more adversarial than constructive relationship with their passengers. Five years ago, it's doubtful these two aforementioned stories would have had similar endings. Today, they show that perhaps corporate America is starting to listen after all and can move the needle on human rights further than this current administration in the White House.
Sign up for the weekly Brands Taking Stands newsletter, which arrives in your inbox every Wednesday.
Image credit: Miguel Ángel Sanz/Unsplash
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 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.