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Are black passengers treated unfairly on American Airline flights? NAACP says yes.

The NAACP has issued a warning to African Americans to “exercise caution” in flying American Airlines, whose second-busiest hub is in Charlotte.
The NAACP has issued a warning to African Americans to “exercise caution” in flying American Airlines, whose second-busiest hub is in Charlotte. jsimmons@charlotteobserver.com

The NAACP has issued a warning to black passengers to “exercise caution” in flying American Airlines, whose second-busiest hub is in Charlotte.

The group on Tuesday cited a months-long pattern of incidents involving black passengers, and said flying American could “subject them (to) disrespectful, discriminatory or unsafe conditions.”

The NAACP listed four incidents that it said suggested a corporate culture of racial insensitivity and possible bias by the airline:

▪ A black man was forced to give up his seat on a flight from Washington, D.C., to the Raleigh-Durham airport after responding to “disrespectful” comments to him by two white passengers.

▪ A black woman with first-class seats was switched to coach while her white companion kept her first-class seat.

▪ The pilot on a New York-to-Miami flight removed an African-American woman who complained to a gate agent about having her seat assignment changed.

▪ A black woman and her infant were removed from a flight from Atlanta to New York when she asked that her stroller be retrieved from checked baggage before she would disembark.

“We are disappointed to hear about this travel advisory as our team members – a diverse community of gate agents, pilots, and flight attendants – are proud to serve customers of all backgrounds,” American spokeswoman Shannon Gilson said in a statement. “Every day American is committed to providing a positive, safe travel experience for everyone who flies with us.

“We will invite representatives of the NAACP to meet with our team at our headquarters in Fort Worth, Texas. We are committed to having a meaningful dialogue about our airline and are ready to both listen and engage.”

In a memo Wednesday to American staff, CEO Doug Parker said the airline is eager to meet with the NAACP.

“The mission statement of the NAACP states that it ‘seeks to remove all barriers of racial discrimination,’ ” he wrote. “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.”

The advisory was another blow to the airline industry’s reputation among consumers after a physician was dragged, screaming and bleeding, off an overbooked United Airlines plane in April.

The NAACP suggested that the incidents it cited could be the “tip of the iceberg” of other claims of mistreatment.

“All travelers must be guaranteed the right to travel without fear of threat, violence or harm,” President and CEO Derrick Johnson said in a statement. “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.”

Bruce Henderson: 704-358-5051, @bhender

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