American Airlines chief executive, Doug Parker has hit back at accusations made against the airline by a civil rights group alleging a “corporate culture of racial insensitivity and possible racial bias” against African-Americans. The charges were made by National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in a ‘travel advisory’ made on Monday evening.
The NAACP describes itself as the oldest civil rights organisation in the United States, having been founded in Springfield, Illinois in 1909. With over 500,000 members in the U.S, the group says its mission is to ensure a society where everyone enjoys equal rights without discrimination based on race.
The travel advisory issued by the NAACP warns African-American’s that they could face “disrespectful, discriminatory or unsafe conditions” when travelling with American Airlines. The NAACP took the decision to publish the warning following what it called a “pattern of disturbing incidents reported by African-American passengers, specific to American Airlines.”
The advisory goes on to say that American and its staff have been involved in “troublesome conduct” which suggests a “corporate culture of racial insensitivity and possible racial bias.” Incidents cited by the NAACP include:
- An African-American man who was the victim of discriminatory comments by other passengers was forced to “relinquish” his seat when he challenged their behaviour.
- A black passenger’s First Class ticket was downgraded to Coach when her white travelling companion remained seated in First Class.
- An American Airlines pilot directed that an African-American woman was removed from a flight because she complained to a gate agent about her seating assignment.
- A mother and her young daughter were removed from a flight because she requested her stroller be retrieved from the hold before she deplaned.
On the face of it, all of these incidents seem fairly low-key and possibly explained away as unfortunate customer service fails that could affect anyone of any colour, nationality, religion, gender or sexuality.
But the NAACP says they believe these incidents are just the ‘tip of the iceberg’ and think its representative of an “unacceptable corporate culture” – claiming the behaviour can’t simply be dismissed as random or normal.
In response, some AA passengers have taken to social media, using the hashtag #Happened2MeOnAA to highlight other incidents of alleged discriminatory behaviour.
I stopped flying @AmericanAir about 3 years ago because being mistreated #Happened2MeOnAA now I will actively participate 2 inform others https://t.co/z1NQx3iuoL
— LatriceRenee (@Detroiter4life) October 25, 2017
#Happened2meOnAA On 10/7 gate agents omitted getting me on a purchased flight from ATL to MIA! Most rude agents ever! I stand w/ the @NAACP
— David Edwards (@DontMindmEent) October 25, 2017
In 2011 a suspected white supremacist flight attendant was goin outta her way 2 b disrespectful 2 me & other Blk passengers #Happened2MeOnAA
— Tariq Nasheed (@tariqnasheed) October 25, 2017
Like I’ve said from the start: what #happened2meonAA wasn’t a 1-time incident. It was never just me. This is systemic discrimination.
— Tamika D. Mallory (@TamikaDMallory) October 25, 2017
But American seems bemused by the allegations, with Doug Parker the airline’s CEO writing an open letter to staff saying he was “disappointed” to learn of the travel advisory. In fact, Parker says the top priority of flight attendants and other staffers at AA is “bringing people together.”
The letter to staff reads: “We fly over borders, walls and stereotypes to connect people from different races, religions, nationalities, economic backgrounds and sexual orientations. We make the world a smaller, more inclusive place. And we do it professionally and safely every day for more than 500,000 customers across five continents.”
Parker says the airline has reached out to the NAACP to urgently discuss their concerns, saying American doesn’t “tolerate discrimination of any kind.”
In the meantime, Parker urges his staff to treat customers with respect and to act professionally and safely.
The full statement from Doug Parker reads as follows:
Dear Fellow Team Members,
Of all the really important things our team members do – and that list is long – bringing people together is at the top. We fly over borders, walls and stereotypes to connect people from different races, religions, nationalities, economic backgrounds and sexual orientations. We make the world a smaller, more inclusive place. And we do it professionally and safely every day for more than 500,000 customers across five continents.
So, we were disappointed to learn of a travel advisory issued by the NAACP regarding American Airlines. The mission statement of the NAACP states that it “seeks to remove all barriers of racial discrimination.” That’s a mission that the people of American Airlines endorse and facilitate every day – we do not and will not tolerate discrimination of any kind. We have reached out to the NAACP and are eager to meet with them to listen to their issues and concerns.
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; connect diverse groups of people with each other and allow them to see the world; make the world a smaller and more open place; and do it professionally and safely.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.