Racial Discrimination Suit: Eight Black Men Removed From American Airlines Flight Over Body Odor Complaint

Three Black men have filed a federal lawsuit against American Airlines today, alleging racial discrimination after eight Black male passengers were forced off Phoenix – New York JFK flight 832 in January due to a complaint about body odor.

Notably, the men say they did not know each other before the flight and were not seated together. What they had in common was that they were black.

Shortly after boarding the plane in Phoenix, an American Airlines representative approached the men one by one and ordered them off the plane without, the men say, providing any explanation. Videos of the incident show the men expressing shock and accusing the airline staff of discrimination. In one recording, an American Airlines representative can be heard agreeing with the passengers’ accusations of racial discrimination.

The plaintiffs were eventually told that a white male flight attendant had complained about an unidentified passenger’s body odor. The men were initially told they would need to be rebooked on other flights, but after more than an hour delay and the inability to find alternative flights, they were allowed to reboard the original plane.

According to the suit,

Plaintiffs then had to reboard the plane and endure the stares of the largely white passengers who viewed them as the cause of the substantial delay. They suffered during the entire flight home, and the entire incident was traumatic, upsetting, scary, humiliating, and degrading.

According to American Airlines,

We take all claims of discrimination very seriously and want our customers to have a positive experience when they choose to fly with us. Our teams are currently investigating the matter, as the claims do not reflect our core values or our purpose of caring for people.

In 2017 the NAACP issued a travel warning against American Airlines over incidents that were not in any way racial. However there were real racial incidents on the airline, and plenty more that were seemingly credible and the carrier’s former CEO adopted anti-racism as a cause in the aftermath of George Floyd.

There are a lot of misunderstandings that happen when bringing people of diverse backgrounds together inside metal tubes, and leaving frontline employees of a very large corporation to sort them out quickly and sometimes based on their own prejudices (despite ‘diversity training’). There’s a good chance these passengers are owed an apology, and should have received genuine contrition long before this reached a federal courthouse. Once again I’m not sure that American Airlines lawyers are doing their jobs very well.

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. The head of legal’s boss took over Vasu’s job. How’s that for the Peter Principle..

  2. Full disclosure, I’ve forgotten to put on deodorant in a rush to leave the house, not often, but it happens. (My wife will let me know !) I’m white though, so I at least don’t have to be worried I’ll get tossed off a flight. Looks to me like these guys deserve every penny they get and some employees need to be counseled and possibly fired.

  3. In none of this was there anything about the actions taken about the flight attendant (unpaid admin leave? more training?) who allegedly caused this to occur, and nothing that was offered to the men removed or other passengers as they reboarded. This would be stunning if it weren’t so usual in other situations of discrimination.

  4. I can believe it as the same thing once happened to me and I’m not even Black. I’m a big bearded guy who occasionally substitute teaches, usually junior or senior high schools but used to do elementary too. One time there a teacher must have felt nervous because she reported a non-existent body odor and the employment office pulled me right out. It’s a nasty, helpless feeling to have such accusations made against you. I hope they really nail AA and that FA.

  5. @drrichard … ok , their bad … but you didn’t run to a lawyer and demand undeserved money , I’m sure .

  6. Jeez, AA just can’t get stop with this nonsense. I’m guessing intense body odor could possibly be a result of a medical condition. So could AA have broken some kind of a ADA rule if so? I’ve sat next t plenty of foul smelling / farting white people & never have seen any ordered off a flight for their stench.

  7. One flight attendant has a problem with someone’s body odor, so a bunch of black people on the flight are removed? They’re not even sitting together? So the guy was so offended he couldn’t actually identify the real person (and evidently couldn’t tell by his delicate sense of smell?) and this “AA representative” just pulls people off because they’re the same race? I have to agree about the lawyers. This should have been settled long ago. It is going to turn out badly for AA.

  8. This happens occasionally on all airlines and has nothing to do with race. If passengers seated near a person with bad body odor and reports it to the FA in most cases the offending Customer is asked if they can try to clean up in the restroom, use deodorant, maybe try to change their shirt or the offensive clothing. Rarely, but does happen that they are not reboarded.

    I recall going to a gift shop and purchasing a shirt and sweatpants for a Customer who had checked everything he had.

    Sometimes, you cannot expect a plane full of other passengers to sit for hours holding their breath.

  9. Maybe I’m more sensitive to odor, for decades every woman in 1st whipped out nail polish the second they sat down. Acetone gives me headaches. Christmas night, connecting in Cincinnati on DL, the man seated next to me would have knocked a buzzard off a septic tank. FA was new, whipped out her 4 inch-thick book of Regs, thumbing through it. I suggested spending the night on my dime, waiting for a flight the next morning. Senior FA moved him to another row. Man moved was of a different ethnic group; if he wants to sue, I’ll pay my own expenses to appear and testify.

  10. I assume the flight attendant was dinged for causing a late departure and impacting AA stats.

  11. How could this happen in 2024?

    It seems like it happened during the segregation period with Rosa Park’s shadow.

    This kind of story would be absolutely unimaginable in Europe. The FA would be immediately fired for that instead of offlading pax based on a racial discrimination.

    I’m truly shocked.

    And you are solely talking about an apology? Nothing related to significantly compensating these 8 pax, firing this FA, and trying to seriously work on some typically American (Airlines) flaws?

  12. When I first started flying back in the 70’s, we often had individuals with bad body odor. One of the agents, would go down and advise the pax and offer them a bar of soap and wash cloth. They were allowed to change clothes. Many times individuals may have run for their conx or just have neglected or run out of time to take a shower…….and then in other cases they have been traveling for hours and odor happens. Then further you have individuals from other countries that do not believe in deodorant. I am sure there are other reasons……..enough other reasons that discrimination does not have to be the issue. I doubt now if anything will be found out. And why did the f/a not point out the gentleman had the issue……….this just seems to be so over the top…

  13. @Fordamist LeDearn

    I’m with you.

    The number of women in the US I have seen whip out nail polish remover, then give themselves a manicure and re-paint their nails in the last two years has been 4.

    Evenly mixed between upfront and cattle.

    Regardless of explaining that the smell is bad, or that there could be turbulence will dissuade these self centered “ladies”

    I have never seen such a thing outside of the US

  14. I highly doubt it was one flight attendant. Usually in coach before a move to call a coordinator out the flight attendants want to have at least two agree to do something. Then they tell the captain. He calls a coordinator to the flight. The coordinator assesses the situation and that persons pulls people off the flight. Due to past allegations of discrimination and or threats of violence captains very rarely if ever leave the cockpit for anything and flight attendants get demerits for the slightest indiscretion. Everyone always covers their backside.

  15. Usually articles like this bring out a bunch of racist trolls in the comments section claiming it’s all made-up. The facts that (a.) these men didn’t know each other, (b.) weren’t seated together, (c.) the issue was raised by a flight attendant and not any of the other passengers actually sitting next to these men, and (d.) a member of the gate staff present allegedly recorded saying it looked bad & discriminatory to them present at the scene… That’s pretty blatant and shocking. Give these men their day in court. If the facts are as described then they deserve a big settlement, both for their own restitution and to penalize AA for their handling.

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