NAACP issues travel advisory, cautioning African Americans to reconsider flying American Airlines

NAACP-American Airlines
An American Airlines jet taxis to the gate at Miami International Airport.

The NAACP says African Americans have cause to worry about discriminatory, even unsafe, conditions while flying on American Airlines.

In announcing what it called a travel advisory, the NAACP said that, for several months, it has monitored a pattern of disturbing incidents reported by African American passengers. As a result, the group said, it was issuing a national alert to be cautious in booking and boarding flights on American because of the possibility of “disrespectful, discriminatory, or unsafe conditions.”

Expressing concern about the Tuesday night advisory, the airline invited NAACP leaders to meet with its executive team at corporate headquarters in Fort Worth, Texas, to “both listen and engage.”

Derrick Johnson, who has been at the helm of the civil rights organization since July and was recently named permanent president, told the Associated Press on Wednesday that the group was not boycotting American Airlines but that a series of events made the NAACP think it needed to issue a warning.

“We’re not telling people not to fly on American,” Johnson said. “We’re just saying to individuals that here is an advisory note. We have picked up a pattern of a certain behavior of this corporation, and until further notice be on alert.”

American is the world’s largest airline and operates 6,700 flights a day, including 390 in Philadelphia, which is a hub for the carrier. On Wednesday, CEO Doug Parker said he was disappointed in the NAACP’s warning and wanted to meet with the group’s leadership.

In a statement, American said it has a diverse group of gate agents, pilots, and flight attendants, and serves customers of all backgrounds. The airline has 100,000 employees worldwide, 8,000 of whom are based in Philadelphia.

In describing four incidents in which African American passengers reported discrimination, NAACP officials did not list flight numbers, dates, names of passengers, or cities involved in every case. On Wednesday, they did not respond to a request for more details.

The four incidents “suggest a corporate culture of racial insensitivity and possible racial bias on the part of American Airlines,” the NAACP said in its advisory, citing the following:

  • A woman, whom the Associated Press identified as Tamika Mallory, reported that she was ordered removed by the pilot from her flight from Miami to New York after she complained to the gate agent that her seat assignment was changed without her consent. Mallory had changed her seat at an airport kiosk, but was told at the gate that the seat had been assigned to another passenger. Mallory said she was treated disrespectfully by the gate agent, and was later kicked off the plane.
  • A Boston woman reported that she and her infant were removed from a flight from Atlanta to New York when the woman — “incidentally a Harvard Law School student,” the NAACP noted — got into a dispute with employees when the plane returned to the terminal because of a lengthy delay. She said she asked that her stroller be retrieved from checked baggage before she would disembark. The request was refused, she said.
  • A man said he was required to relinquish his purchased seats on a flight from Washington to Raleigh-Durham, N.C., because he responded to “disrespectful and discriminatory comments directed toward him by two unruly white passengers.” AP reported that the man was the head of the North Carolina NAACP, the Rev. William Barber, who sued American. Barber dropped the lawsuit in June.
  • A woman who booked first-class tickets for herself and a traveling companion said she was switched to the coach section at the ticket counter, while her white companion remained assigned to a first-class seat.

“The growing list of incidents suggesting racial bias reflects an unacceptable corporate culture and involves behavior that cannot be dismissed as normal or random,” Johnson said in a statement. “We expect an audience with the leadership of American Airlines to air these grievances and to spur corrective action.”

American’s Parker said in an email to employees: “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.

“As we work through this in concert with the NAACP,” Parker said, “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.”

The NAACP said it had issued travel advisories in the past when “conditions on the ground pose a substantial risk of harm to black Americans.”

In August, the NAACP issued a travel advisory for the state of Missouri, after a bill about workplace-discrimination rules was signed into law by the governor. The NAACP urged “extreme caution while visiting.”