NAACP threatens American Airlines with travel ban after it cited body odor when removing 8 Black men from flight

The NAACP has threatened to reinstate a travel ban on American Airlines after the company removed eight Black men from a flight last month when a white flight attendant complained an unidentified passenger had body odor. 

In 2017, the civil rights organization issued a travel advisory for their airline, warning African American passengers to “exercise caution” after multiple reports of discrimination. At the time, the organization cited four “alarming” incidents that seemed to show Black Americans were subjected to “disrespectful, discriminatory or unsafe conditions” when booking or boarding with the airline. 

American Airlines responded by instituting a diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) panel, and the NAACP lifted its ban in July 2018. 

But amid growing politicization of DEI programs, American Ariline’s council was disbanded last year.

Now, the NAACP is once again calling on the company to respond to mounting allegations of discrimination.

“Recent discriminatory actions from company employees prove that there is a dire need for continued accountability and resolution to this clear pattern,” NAACP President and CEO Derrick Johnson said in a statement

In 2023, track star Sha’Carri Richardson alleged that a flight attendant “threatened” her and a fan who wanted a picture. That same year, American staff members questioned musician David Ryan Harris at LAX because they suspected he was trafficking children — though the boys were his own sons.

Earlier this year, retired Circuit Judge Pamela Hill-Veal told NPR that as she and her family flew first class on American from Chicago to Phoenix in February, a flight attendant accused her of “slamming” the first class bathroom door and then told her she would have to use the bathroom at the back of the plane for the rest of the flight.

And just last month, three Black men filed a lawsuit against American Airlines, alleging employees forced them and the other Black male passengers to deboard a flight from California to New York. 

According to the suit, the plaintiffs were not immediately given a reason for their removal. Only after demanding an explanation multiple times did a representative finally tell them a white male flight attendant had complained about an unidentified passenger’s body odor. None of the men removed were accused of having an offensive odor, the lawsuit states. 

Video recordings of the incident show several of the men alleging they were being discriminated against. At least one American representative can be heard saying “I agree” in response to the accusations.

“We encourage American Airlines to come revive the advisory panel and reconvene with the NAACP to devise a path forward that ensures equitable experiences for all American Airlines customers,” Johnson said. “Without a swift and decisive response, the NAACP will be forced to reinstate an advisory against the airline.”

A spokesperson for the company told The Hill that American Airlines has “worked with the NAACP to institute education and training programs to address issues of bias on our aircraft and within our hiring practices to eliminate bias and create a workforce and customer experience that represents the customers we serve.”

Counsels for the plaintiffs Susan Huhta, partner at Outten & Golden, and Michael Kirkpatrick, attorney at Public Citizen Litigation Group, said in a statement Wednesday that their three clients are “still waiting or American Airlines to provide them with a reasonable explanation for why they were removed from the airplane and publicly humiliated.”

American Airlines previously told The Hill that the company takes “all claims of discrimination very seriously and want our customers to have a positive experience when they choose to fly with us.” The company added that the matter was being investigated and that “the claims do not reflect our core values or our purpose of caring for people.”

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