The NAACP, the nation's oldest civil rights organization, has issued an advisory warning black travelers to be cautious about flying on American Airlines. The airline's chairman, in response, says the company does not "and will not tolerate discrimination of any kind."
The NAACP described "a pattern of disturbing incidents reported by African-American passengers, specific to American Airlines." They cited four incidents in particular as examples that "suggest a corporate culture of racial insensitivity and possible racial bias on the part of American Airlines."
"An African-American man was required to relinquish his purchased seats aboard a flight from Washington, D.C. to Raleigh-Durham, merely because he responded to disrespectful and discriminatory comments directed toward him by two unruly white passengers," the NAACP said of one incident.
In another case, a black woman with first-class tickets was switched to coach while her white companion remained in first class; two other incidents involved black women removed from flights after making routine complaints or requests.
The "growing list" of such incidents "reflects an unacceptable corporate culture and involves behavior that cannot be dismissed as normal or random," said Derrick Johnson, president and CEO of the NAACP.
"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," the NAACP writes in the advisory. "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 organization called for an "audience" with the airline.
In a letter to employees, American Airlines chairman and CEO Doug Parker strongly defended the company's record of professionalism, safety and inclusivity.
"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," Parker wrote.
"We have reached out to the NAACP and are eager to meet with them to listen to their issues and concerns," Parker said.
The NAACP issued a travel advisory for the state of Missouri this summer, citing the state's record of racial bias in traffic stops, among other things. It was the first such alert the NAACP had ever issued for a single state.