American Airlines Lays Out Their Position On Black Lives Matter

American Airlines President Robert Isom spoke to a group of pilots last week. In his prepared remarks he laid out the carrier’s position on Black Lives Matter, as a way of framing controversy over the airline letting crewmembers wear Black Lives Matter pins.

  • Isom and the company believe the airline’s job is “bringing people together..making sure that everybody is served and nobody feels like they’re left out” and “it’s clear in this country, in our communities, and certainly in our company too, the feeling is everybody is not equal, everybody isn’t treated the same. We’ve got to take this seriously.”

  • The airline won’t back the political group Black Lives Matter, but allows employees to express the sentiment that black lives matter.

Isom challenged employees,

If you think that somehow people are all happy and feel treated as well as they should be, all I can tell is you is go talk to your colleagues, go talk to your friends…the stories that you hear are just so concerning, so disappointing and it will drive you to be attentive and want to make a change.

I take him in his talk with pilots to be saying that black lives do matter and it doesn’t mean signing onto a particular political agenda or program (such as decriminalizing sex work, slavery reparations) to say that.

The airline has taken heat from some customers and some employees for allowing employees to wear self-styled Black Lives Matter pins, but he wants to normalize that in his talk saying that despite “consternation” and “a lot of noise” about the pins they’re really just how they treat pins proposed by any Employee Resource Business Group and this is one that the Black Professional Network wants to be available.

At the same time the airline is allowing unofficial pins to be worn, in advance of an official pin, and that isn’t standard. This is clearly because leadership does believe there’s an important principle here. Isom offers,

It’s important that you go out and talk to your friends and colleagues, your black friends and colleagues out there, the stories not just in the community but in our company, in our coockpits, in our cabin, out on the ground in the terminals. It goes on every day in terms of outright blatant discrimination, unequal treatment, and it is something that we’ve got to be attentive to.

I do wonder whether the airline’s President admitting to “blatant discrimination” that “goes on every day” in his company’s workplace potentially creates liability, at least along the lines of the way that the Department of Education is trolling Princeton after its President admitted to systemic and long-standing discrimination within that institution.

In this regard it doesn’t even matter if the airline’s President is right and genuinely wants to do something about it. At the same time after the exit of Vice President for DFW Cedric Rockamore only three African Americans remain in leadership at American Airlines. There’s the Chief Diversity Officer, Vice Presidents of Compensation and Benefits and Vice President of Team Member Services. In other words, HR roles not airline roles.

Here’s the real challenge. It’s a perfectly reasonable distinction to “express[..] the sentiment and not some type of tie with a political group that we aren’t going to back” but I’m not sure a pin is the best way to make a distinction when the message is offered to employees and not customers. It’s a distinction that I wish more of us made but that judging from past blog comments it seems many do not.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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Comments

  1. It seems well stated on the surface. The problem with saying you back a political group like BLM is like saying you back a group like the Black Panthers or KKK it’s not about civil rights where as supporting diversity and supporting the ideas that racial equality and black lives do matter is a much better approach. If nothing else it’s better than the tiresome virtue signaling we are seeing at so many companies that seem clueless.

  2. Interestingly, data suggests that the only ones who tie the idea of “Black lives matter” to the organization are basically hyperpartisans (on both sides). Individuals in the middle (which is a majority of the country, but getting smaller) take it at face value: Black lives matter just as much as everyone else. AA is taking a very middle-of-the-road stance, saying, “Hey, we don’t necessarily agree with the organization itself, but we agree with the principle.”

    It’s quite sad that the far left wants to cancel everyone who won’t go as far as them, and that the far right/partisan right takes supporting the idea that racism exists as a threat to the country and their own personal well-being.

  3. Me: “I wonder how many comments it will take to find one throwing a tantrum about marxism (which has nothing to do with BLM) or someone getting mad about “left wing cancel culture” (but of course the president telling people to boycott Goodyear, an American tire company because they didn’t allow political hats is not at all offensive and not cancel culture…?) because they *gasp* want to stop racism. Good to see people getting more offended by “left wing cancel culture” than they do about their fellow americans being murdered by police.

    Great job cowards.

  4. Isom and Parker should focus on making American the great airline it once was and stay out BLM! What is going to happen when a passenger wears a All Lives Matter or Blue Lives Matter pin. More delays and cancellations!

  5. Actually, only 2 African American VPs left now, one is VP of Team Member Services and the other “Chief Diversity Officer”. Both in HR, typical of large organizations, trying to make quotas.

  6. I don’t see why public companies with many shareholders should be taking a stance on any issue not related to the success of the business. I do appreciate American Airlines is not officially taking a stance on the BLM movement that pushes anti white hate/Marxism/attacks Christianity/supports arson & violence against civilians (none of these help to address the actual issue of police abuse which affects all races nor addresses black on black and black on white violence which plagues our cities). Many people find the BLM movement criminal, abusive, and immoral. These people would have no inclusion at American Airlines which prides itself on inclusion.

    I hope American isn’t opening the flood gates for politicization of air travel. If they allow employees to wear BLM pins, they have to allow employees to wear white pride, Christian pride, straight pride, conservative pride, hate gun control, hate infringement on free speech, hate endless foreign wars, hate the TSA, hate domestic spying, hate the FBI, and hate anti white hate pins. I rather leave this stuff to twitter and out of air travel.

  7. Maybe the easiest thing is not to wear BLM pins and just address the culture at your own company? the slogan BLM can not be distinguished from the group. I know he wants to try to have his cake and eat it too but he can’t. If they must have pins why can’t they come up with their own pin to endorse equality, why does it have to be BLM? Like I said if there is an issue at his airline then it seems like maybe that should be the more important thing to focus on instead of staff walking around wearing pins. Also, “It’s important that you go out and talk to your friends and colleagues, your black friends and colleagues out there”. Well maybe people’s black friends and colleagues don’t want to have these conversations with you and your white staff? Sorry but there are plenty of books on the topic, but why is he throwing this obligation on to black people to educate everyone? Its one thing if they want to volunteer to discuss it with people, but not everybody suddenly wants to have to explain issues of racial equality to coworkers. He didn’t even give them a choice on whether or not they wish to assume this role.

  8. “bringing people together..making sure that everybody is served and nobody feels like they’re left out”

    And yet by preventing employees from expressing themselves on controversial issues BESIDES BLM, they are doing just that. I’m sure employees who want to wear “Blue Lives Matter” or “Trump 2020” gear are feeling left out.

    And BLM is NOT a non-political issue. Just about everyone agrees that black lives matter, but most of us see quite clearly the destruction, mayhem, and misery caused by these people and their rioting. You can’t separate the two – not logically.

  9. Wow..I was raised different I guess, my Parents raised us to respect to get respect in return, no color in our home! That’s the way I raised my children. This is all socialist, political..do ur research folks! Guess when people quit flying becuz NO ONE can afford it..you’ll be jobless also..careful what u wish for

  10. Literally the only people ‘hurt’ by black people being treated the same as white Americans, are racists.

    Therefore, if you are hurt or offended by someone saying black lives matter, or seeing someone wear a blm pin — which is a peaceful way to advocate for that equality — you are a racist. You may not think you are, but you are.

  11. “If you think that somehow people are all happy and feel treated as well as they should be, all I can tell is you is go talk to your colleagues, go talk to your friends…the stories that you hear are just so concerning, so disappointing and it will drive you to be attentive and want to make a change.”

    Black Lives Matter haters don’t want to hear it. They are totally comfortable the way things are. The reality many live with varies from their preconceived notions and privileged personal experiences.

  12. Just reading the comments here is more than enough evidence that AA would be wise to stay the hell out of this. I don’t care how they paint it, it’s a very divisive issue.

  13. To Ryan ,
    You have no idea what your talking about .. BLM is all about Marxism , see who runs it and where all the money goes..
    Get informed and stop believing what they tell you on the fake news..

  14. The chief diversity officer is leaving. Was to have left around G Flloyds untimely passing. Better optics to have him stay.

  15. Did Joe really just say — “most of us see quite clearly the destruction, mayhem, and misery caused by these people and their rioting”. Who TF is he saying is “these people”? Supporting the principle of Black Lives Matter and wearing a pin saying BLM no more equates with rioters than wearing a MAGA cap associates someone with the white supremacist guy who shot up El Paso.

  16. Actually there is only the one black VP and it’s the VP of Team Member Services. Their Chief Diversity Officer leaving too.

  17. Here let me fix this for you @David:

    “I don’t care how they paint it, it’s a very divisive issue” with racists.

    Much clearer now.

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