Is Passenger’s ‘African American Service Charge’ On American Airlines A Hoax?

Update: This was caused by a data matching error at Capital One

Kyetra Bryant flew American Airlines from Charlotte to Denver over Thanksgiving. She and her companion checked in at a kiosk and paid a checked bag fee. She says the charge appeared on her bank statement as “African American, African service charge.”

At first it seemed like perhaps a ‘rogue kiosk’ is at fault (because while American is unable to manage processing confirmed upgrades online, they have rogue AI kiosks) or… American Airlines appears to blame Mastercard,

The customer alerted American to the offensively labeled baggage fee on her bank statement in mid-December. We were disturbed by what we saw and immediately launched an investigation to understand what occurred.

The baggage fee was purchased at a self-service kiosk in Charlotte. Our team members are unable to change text when processing a charge and we’ve determined the issue originated with the credit card company and bank issuer.

We reached out to Mastercard who confirmed that American submitted the baggage fee information correctly during the payment process and Mastercard is conducting its own investigation.

Mastercard, of course, along with Citibank and Barclays, represents the single largest revenue stream at American Airlines.

However not everyone is convinced that this is real,

When checking in at the koisk, you can nickname your charge as anything you want to. She or her boyfriend typed that in themself. The picture receipt she is using shows at the bottom how the Airlines will list the charge. She has added a “description” much like people used to write in the “memo” line of paper checks.

To be clear I have never been offered the ability to ‘name’ a transaction by an American Airlines kiosk. I have had the ability to tag transactions in a bank account.

What’s bizarre is that,

  • This happened at a kiosk. If the kiosk did it, it was programmed by someone. But it’s only been reported by one customer, and that customer happened to be black. How did the kiosk know?

  • I take American at their word that the transaction was submitted properly. That would suggest there was no errant programming of a kiosk.

  • I’m inclined to believe this is a customer-tagged charge, until I see another charge show up like this.

For his part, American Airlines CEO Doug Parker took to LinkedIn to offer a word salad about Black History Month.

Two years ago an internal newsletter about Black History Month sent to American Airlines employees featured a stock photos of employees, not a single one of which was black.

(HT: Live and Let’s Fly)

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, 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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  1. If I can name my charges at a Kiosk, is there any chance I can trick the Kiosk into labeling it to hit my CC Bonus categories?

  2. I suppose you could program by name. Kyetra or LaShonda, could be black. Ding, maybe Chinese. If it were Gavin, I’d presume Welsh and probably white.

  3. @Joe – Parker is going to share the story of Black team members, but doesn’t name a single one here.

    He participated in an event. He’s going to have a bias towards action through intentional dialogue that will chart a course for change, and encourages tough conversations (while doing nothing to encourage them). Yeah, word salad.

    After letting go and losing all African American senior leaders, including dropping the only one in an airline role prior to the pandemic, they’ve hired the former DFW Vice President back (in an HR role) and promoted an African American to VP (of the Philadelphia hub).

  4. Maybe one day we can reach that destiny where we are all simply “Americans.” I’m already there. But the retards in the racial identity business don’t want equality as long as they profit from the friction.

  5. @DFWSteve

    Agree 100%.

    This stupid and useless division will continue as long as we, as a society, continue to describe people as -American rather than what we all are: simply AMERICANS, no hyphen needed.

    After practicing medicine for almost 40 years I’ve noticed one peculiar thing, regardless of who I’m treating (be it caucasian, black, asian, hispanic, male, female, straight, gay, transgender, christian, muslim, yew, republican, democrat and so on), we all have the same color under the skin, same organs, same red colored blood.

    Is damn time we all grow up and start behaving like adults and realize we are ALL HUMAN BEINGS!

  6. I’m calling fake. IIRC, the kiosk has a facility whereby a user can assign a description to a transaction by typing it in while at the kiosk. Judging from the attached screenshots, doesn’t appear to be an actual bank statement but rather a copy/emailed copy of the transaction receipt.

    Another perspective – assuming this “coding error” occurred on this single kiosk at the Charlotte Airport, what are the chances that since late November, this couple were the African-Americans to have used said kiosk? This (fabricated) “issue” would’ve seen the light of day a lot sooner than just recently.

    Unfortunate that some folks openly peddle b.s.

  7. It is hard to believe that a simple database query would not find the answer. It should have been referred to IT who could determine exactly what was entered where and by whom and that would have ended the story. They have all of the transactions in the system and a log/history of those transactions, which can be queried. It has nothing to do with the bank, as noted above. Maybe (hypothetically) there is a bug in the AA kiosk software that carried forward the description used by the person before them – those kind of things happen – sloppy coding. There are lots of rocks to turn over before assigning blame either way.

  8. I’m hoping we get to hear the end result of these investigations. Whoever is responsible should be called out. Either it really happened or was a fabricated hoax. I’d like to know.

  9. American has no good business reason whatsoever to do this intentionally. I do know that a lot of folks are very good at editing images (like one can do with Photoshop) and can post any image they want for any number of reasons.

  10. One coding error at a kiosk used by hundreds, a machine that has no idea of the ethnicity of the user?
    There’s little doubt that CapitalOne agreed to take the hit and explain this as a ‘coding error’ to try to put the whole thing to rest. For C-One or American to continue to deny fault would only feed the sentiment of the mob that somebody got caught in a racial bias act and is trying to get away with it. Good for CapitalOne to take one for the team, though it means the real story will never be known..

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