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The Facts —
- The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) issued a travel advisory on 24 October “warning African American [air travel passengers] about their safety and well being when patronizing American Airlines or traveling on American Airlines flights.”
- The advisory said:
“The NAACP has for several months been monitoring a pattern of disturbing incidents reported by African-American passengers, specific to American Airlines. In light of these confrontations, the NAACP issued a travel advisory on October 24, 2017 warning African Americans about their safety and well-being when patronizing American Airlines or traveling on American Airlines flights. The NAACP has called for a meeting with the leadership of American Airlines to air these grievances and to spur corrective action. Until these and other concerns are addressed, this national travel advisory will stand.”
- The NAACP advisory cited the “disturbing instances” as including requiring African Americans to relinquish purchased seats for refusing to change seat assignments, asking for items from checked baggage and complaining about seat changes without consent, as well changes to an African American woman’s seat assignment without her consent.
- American Airlines responded by releasing a letter that American Airlines Chairman and CEO Doug Parker sent to all employees of the airline on 25 October that said:
“[W]e 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.”
- The NAACP has asked anyone experiencing “any concerning travel irregularities on American Airlines or another provider” to report those instances using the form provided on its website.
The Context —
- The NAACP’s issued the following statement regarding its travel advisory for African Americans traveling on flights operated by American Airlines:
- “[W]e have today taken the action of issuing [a] national advisory alerting travelers—especially African Americans—to exercise caution, in that booking and boarding flights on American Airlines could subject them disrespectful, discriminatory or unsafe conditions. This travel advisory is in effect beginning today, 24 October 2017, until further notice.
- “The series of recent incidents involve troublesome conduct by American Airlines and they suggest a corporate culture of racial insensitivity and possible racial bias on the part of American Airlines. Among these incidents:
- “An African-American man was required to relinquish his purchased seats aboard a flight from Washington, DC to Raleigh-Durham, merely because he responded to disrespectful and discriminatory comments directed toward him by two unruly white passengers;
- “Despite having previously booked first-class tickets for herself and a traveling companion, an African-American woman’s seating assignment was switched to the coach section at the ticket counter, while her white companion remained assigned to a first-class seat;
- “On a flight bound for New York from Miami, the pilot directed that an African-American woman be removed from the flight when she complained to the gate agent about having her seating assignment changed without her consent; and
- “An African-American woman and her infant child were removed from a flight from Atlanta to New York City when the woman (incidentally a Harvard Law School student) asked that her stroller be retrieved from checked baggage before she would disembark.
- “The NAACP deplores such alarming behavior on the part of airline personnel, and 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. Historically, the NAACP has issued travel advisories when conditions on the ground pose a substantial risk of harm to black Americans, and we are concerned today that the examples cited herein may represent only the ‘tip of the iceberg’ when it comes to American Airlines’ documented mistreatment of African-American customers.”
- The full letter American Airlines released in response to the NAACP advisory read:
“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.”
- The NAACP previously issued a travel advisory for all types of travel in the state of Missouri on 2 August effective through 28 August.
- The advisory warned “African American travelers, visitors and Missourians to pay special attention and exercise extreme caution when traveling throughout the state given the series of questionable, race-based incidents occurring statewide recently, and noted therein.”
- The St. Louis county branch of the NAACP disagreed with that choice by the NAACP, as reported by The Whim.
Reactions to the NAACP’s Travel Advisory —
- Derrick Johnson, President and CEO of the NAACP, said on 24 October:
“All travelers must be guaranteed the right to travel without fear of threat, violence or harm. The growing list of incidents suggesting racial bias reflects an unacceptable corporate culture and involves behavior that cannot be dismissed as normal or random. We expect an audience with the leadership of American Airlines to air these grievances and to spur corrective action. Until these and other concerns are addressed, this national travel advisory will stand.”
- One Twitter user wrote:
— NEVER SETTLE (@UmmiesPain) October 25, 2017
- CNN’s Anna Navarro tweeted:
— Ana Navarro (@ananavarro) October 25, 2017
- Twitter user Orlando Reece wrote:
2m miles flown with @AmericanAir and have never felt discriminated against by the airline. Don’t let a few bad apples ruin the tree!
— Orlando Reece (@OrlandoReece) October 25, 2017
- Civil rights activist Tamika Mallory said on 24 October:
People can’t play with or stomp on black & brown folks like we’re trash & then expect us to give them our money! It won’t work any longer.
— Tamika D. Mallory (@TamikaDMallory) October 25, 2017
- Johnson and Mallory discussed the travel advisory during a Periscope stream:
— #MIP #GetWoke 6-9a E (@MakeItPlain) October 24, 2017
Stephanie Haney contributed to this report.