FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) — The NAACP is warning African-Americans that if they fly on American Airlines they could be subject to discrimination or even unsafe conditions.
American said Wednesday that it was disappointed by the announcement and will invite the civil rights group to meet and talk about the airline.
The NAACP said that for several months it has watched a pattern of disturbing incidents reported by African-American passengers. Among them was activist Tamika Mallory’s claim last week that she was a victim of racial bias when a pilot ordered her off a flight after a dispute with another airline employee over her seat.
The NAACP said that and other recent incidents involving African-Americans “suggest a corporate culture of racial insensitivity and possible racial bias on the part of American Airlines.”
Dr. Amos Brown of the NAACP’s San Francisco chapter said the organization picked up a pattern of mistreatment against African-Americans passengers earlier this year.
“Too many African Americans have been victims of mistreatment and the brutal ways on the part of personnel with airlines, particularly American Airlines,” said Brown.
Vallejo residents Mike and Nakia Brantley told KPIX 5 they often face discrimination on flights.
“It doesn’t surprise me,” said Nakia Brantley. “Service I’ve received, attitudes from the flight attendants…”
Among the allegations: a black woman booked first-class tickets for herself and her white companion. She was bumped to coach, while her friend stayed in first class.
In another allegation, an African-American woman and her baby were removed from a flight after she asked if their stroller could be retrieved from checked baggage before she left the plane.
Some American Airlines passengers said they were surprised to hear about the advisory.
“We travel a lot and it’s not been my experience,” said American Airlines passenger Murial Smallheiser.
“Its been OK for me, and I’m disabled,” said Betsy Levine-Procter, another passenger.
The Brantleys have refused to fly American ever since an incident on a flight three years ago.
“I asked for something to drink and they acted like I was bothering them, but they had smiles for everybody else,” explained Mike Brantley. “I’d fly a kite before I’d go over there.
In a statement, American Airlines spokeswoman Shannon Gilson said, “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. Every day American is committed to providing a positive, safe travel experience for everyone who flies with us.”
Gibson said American will invite NAACP representatives to meet at the company’s headquarters in Fort Worth, Texas, for “a meaningful dialogue” about the airline.
Additionally, the CEO of American Airlines says the company is disappointed by the advisory. He sent out a letter to his employees that read in part, “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.”
The NAACP highlighted four recent incidents in which African-American passengers said they were treated in a discriminatory way. The one that attracted the most media attention involved Mallory, an organizer of the Women’s March on Washington in January.
Mallory had changed her seat at an airport kiosk, only to be told at the gate that the seat had been assigned to another customer. Mallory said she was treated disrespectfully by the gate agent — another African-American woman — and was outraged when a white male pilot asked if she could control herself while on the flight.
After being told she was being kicked off the plane, Mallory called the pilot a racist in a profanity-laced exchange. She took a later flight home to New York on American, then held a press conference two days later and threatened to take legal action against the airline.
American is the world’s largest airline. The NAACP describes itself as the nation’s oldest and largest nonpartisan civil rights organization.
American Airlines officials have invited leaders with the NAACP to their headquarters in Texas to continue the conversation.
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