American Airlines CEO addresses allegations of Black men removed from flight

American Airlines faces a lawsuit after several Black men were removed from a January flight.
American Airlines Passenger Jet Lands in Washington
American Airlines Passenger Jet Lands in Washington / J. David Ake/GettyImages

American Airlines has been in headlines lately for reasons that are quite disturbing. Several incidents with American Airlines passengers experiencing racism have come to light, causing the airlines CEO Robert Isom to address the issues directly.

“I am incredibly disappointed by what happened on that flight and the breakdown of our procedures,” Isom wrote in a letter addressed to employees, which was obtained by NPR. “We fell short of our commitments and failed our customers in this incident.”

The incident in question involved three Black men who filed a lawsuit against American Airlines based on allegations of racism. Their claim states that they, along with other Black men on the flight, were removed from a January 5 flight leaving Phoenix, Arizona and traveling to New York City. Alvin Jackson, Emmanuel Jean Joesph, and Xavier Veal claimed that they and five others were removed from the flight “without any valid reason, based solely on their race.”

According to the lawsuit, the men were seated and prepared to depart. The men were not seated together, nor did they know each other before the incident. They were each approached by a flight attendant and told to exit the plane. According to them “a white male flight attendant had complained about an unidentified passenger’s body odor.” They were removed from the flight and American Airlines attempted to rebook them, but there were no other services available. This incident occurred after the individuals flew from Los Angeles earlier that day without any issue.

Isom’s letter outlined steps that American will take to ensure this situation does not occur again. Those steps include creating an advisory group that will focus on the travel experience of Black customers, review and improve the company’s internal reporting process for incidents like this and educating employees to recognize bias and discrimination. Isom’s letter also referenced speaking with president and CEO of the NAACP about the lawsuit the airline is facing and the steps the company is taking to correct the problem.

“While it is unfortunately common for Black consumers to experience racism and discrimination at the hands of corporations, it is not common to see such swift and decisive action,” Johson said in a statement to NPR.

In 2017 the NCAAP issued an advisory against traveling on American Airlines after a series of racial discrimination allegations occurred within the airline. That advisory was lifted in 2018 when it was addressed by then company chairman, Doug Parker.