American Airlines says it's eager to work with NAACP to 'listen and learn together'

BIZ EARNS-AMERICANAIRLINES DA
American Airlines’s CEO said the airline is enthusiastic about sitting down with the NAACP. “We can always get better,” said CEO Doug Parker.

American Airlines’ chief executive reiterated Thursday the airline’s commitment to inclusiveness and diversity as he addressed the NAACP’s announcement of a travel advisory against American for what the civil rights group called a corporate culture of racial insensitivity.

On a quarterly earnings call, CEO Doug Parker said: “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. We want to keep learning and we want to get even better.”

Parker said that American has reached out to NAACP representatives and expects “to begin working together in the very near term. We look forward to what lies ahead as a result of this effort.”

The NAACP on Tuesday evening issued a travel advisory against American, citing four incidents involving African American passengers that “suggest a corporate culture of racial insensitivity and possible racial bias.”

According to U.S. Transportation Department monthly Air Travel Consumer reports, passengers flying American filed 18 complaints of racial discrimination against the airline in 2016, and 11 in the first eight months of this year, the most against any U.S. carrier. At the same time, American is the world’s largest airline by passenger traffic, operating 6,700 flights a day and 2.4 million annually.

United Airlines ranked second among major airlines in reports of discrimination based on race: eight complaints in 2016 and seven through August this year. United operates 1.6 million flights a year, and 4,500 each day. Delta and Southwest airlines both had nine complaints of racial discrimination — four against Delta in 2016 and five through August this year. Delta flies 4,800 flights each day and 1.8 million a year. Southwest had five complaints of racial discrimination in 2016 and four so far this year. Southwest operates 4,000 daily flights and 1.5 million each year.

“We think this is a great opportunity,” Parker said on the call. “While the initial reaction was disappointment because you say, ‘How can that be true of us?’ once you get past that, and think, ‘Wow, this is a fantastic opportunity,’ because we want to get better. We always want to get better.”

American reported on Thursday that its third-quarter profit fell because of higher labor and fuel costs and the effect of three hurricanes. Philadelphia’s largest airline, which has a hub and 390 daily flights here, said it expected stronger pricing in the fourth quarter because of improving travel demand among corporate and leisure customers. American shares closed down $2.39, or 4.69 percent, to $48.62 on Thursday.

Parker said that American has seen no impact on bookings since the NAACP travel alert. “We haven’t seen anything, but again that is not the point,” he told investors. “This isn’t about whether or not people fly us. People are flying us. That’s not the issue. It’s about being a stronger company and providing leadership.”

Earlier this month, Muslim Advocates and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund sent a letter to major U.S. airlines calling for mandatory antibias training to reduce the number of racial and religious profiling incidents involving Muslim travelers and passengers of color on airlines.

American transports 500,000 people a day, “and sometimes we do have issues with customers, and that’s our responsibility for them,” Parker said, answering a question. “If you are asking, ‘Are we seeing an increase in customer issues on aircraft?’ not to my knowledge. These are very rare events when they happen, but that doesn’t mean they are not important.

“Organizations like the NAACP can help us, so we welcome the opportunity to work with them. Indeed, we are excited about it and enthusiastic to sit down and listen and learn together.”