NAACP Issues Travel Warning Against American Airlines

The NAACP, co-founded by the legendary W. E. B. Du Bois, was one of the most important organizations — not just civil rights organizations — in the history of America. It’s pursued some of the most important lawsuits in the country, and did incredibly important work fighting Jim Crow laws.

Like many gatherings of diverse people, the organization has its black marks like communism and anti-semitism (while public anti-semitic remarks have been condemned by the likes of Jesse Jackson, Jackson himself is known for referring to New York as ‘Hymietown’ for its large population of Jews).

This organization truly lowered itself yesterday by issuing a ‘national travel advisory’ against American Airlines.

The NAACP for several months now has been monitoring a pattern of disturbing incidents reported by African-American passengers, specific to American Airlines. In light of these confrontations, we have today taken the action of issuing national advisory alerting travelers—especially African Americans—to exercise caution, in that booking and boarding flights on American Airlines could subject them disrespectful, discriminatory or unsafe conditions. This travel advisory is in effect beginning today, October 24, 2017, until further notice.

Now I think we can point to any US airline and suggest a pattern of disturbing incidents experienced by passengers and suggest that customers ought to be on alert that travel on a major American carrier could subject them to disrespectful conditions.

I don’t think it’s fair to say — about any US airline — that those conditions are largely unsafe.

As for discriminatory, the NAACP makes its case with four incidents.

1. An African-American man was required to relinquish his purchased seats aboard a flight from Washington, D.C. to Raleigh-Durham, merely because he responded to disrespectful and discriminatory comments directed toward him by two unruly white passengers;

2. Despite having previously booked first-class tickets for herself and a traveling companion, an African-American woman’s seating assignment was switched to the coach section at the ticket counter, while her white companion remained assigned to a first-class seat;

3. On a flight bound for New York from Miami, the pilot directed that an African-American woman be removed from the flight when she complained to the gate agent about having her seating assignment changed without her consent; and

4. An African-American woman and her infant child were removed from a flight from Atlanta to New York City when the woman (incidentally a Harvard Law School student) asked that her stroller be retrieved from checked baggage before she would disembark.

Except it’s completely false that an African American woman was moved to coach on a paid first class ticket while her white companion flew up front.

  • The passengers bought coach tickets. They did not upgrade with miles or any other instrument.
  • They received free operational upgrades. However their original flight cancelled.
  • They were rebooked the next day onto a flight with only one first class seat available.

And the unnamed African American woman removed from a flight out of Miami was co-chair of the Womens March headed to Al Sharpton’s daughter’s wedding in New York. Seat assignments are changed all the time, and there’s never been any reasons offered by Tamika Mallory or the NAACP that would suggest race played a factor.

And a passenger refusing to disembark a delayed flight without access to checked luggage? How many of my white readers think they’d have better success?

The NAACP says, “We expect an audience with the leadership of American Airlines to air these grievances and to spur corrective action.”

Though of course American Airlines is hardly alone in being accused of racism (Southwest) or removing a minority from a plane (United).

Meanwhile American Airlines heavily promotes diversity in the workplace. They prioritize it at a corporate level. There’s a Facebook page. They give out awards. American publicly supported marriage equality.

Out of 100,000 American Airlines employees there are certainly individuals with prejudice, individuals with ideas more common when they started with the airline 40 years ago than today. But it’s ‘AA,’ not ‘KKK’.

Credit: American Airlines

Goodness knows I don’t claim to know what it’s like to travel as a minority. And as a white (Jewish) man I’m wise to tread very lightly offering commentary on issues of race.

I’m very sympathetic and write regularly about incidents where minorities are profiled by government security, where people who look like minorities are taken off of planes because they frighten morons white people. And the risks imposed at the border. But the specific claims to justify the concern over American are weak, and certainly don’t differentiate American from other airlines.

Of course since I’m Jewish I might not be welcome by many at NAACP gatherings. You might even suggest a travel warning for me.

We need an NAACP, even one tilting at the windmill of everyone’s passenger experience onboard commercial airlines. But suggesting that American Airlines is targeting African Americans for discrimination is simply unsupported by any of the facts offered, and runs counter to many of the facts available.

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. Oh, another white man, sorry jewish man that believes he understands what it is to be an african american man….great!

    Shut your hell hole and keep your travel blogger credit card hawking crap to what you know….smh

  2. Just a customary lame attempt by Reverend Sharpie to get a meeting at AA where he can then extort cash donations.

  3. On one hand, you say that you are wise (as a white man) to tread lightly on issues of race, and yet you then call the NAACP’s position a “terrible farce”, which is hardly treading lightly, and more akin to a Fox News headline.

    You say their claims are weak, but the press release specifically refers to a potential “pattern” of incidents over several months. And of course, you then point to acts of anti-semitism of this organization to suggest that they are guilty of discrimination themselves. Just like you suggest that there may be a pattern to these “black marks”, so do they.

    As I noted on another website, African Americans are discriminated against by businesses every day – I see it at restaurants, at supermarkets, by taxis and Ubers, and department stores all over “liberal” New York. I don’t know whether the NAACP can identify a real pattern in the case of American Airlines, but just because you don’t see it, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

    I would take your own advice, Gary. In the interim, watch the comments below for those who claim that the NAACP is playing the “race card”. Like that isn’t their job.

  4. I am getting so fed up with all these claims of discrimination. Sometimes you are treated like you are just because you are acting like an @ss and don’t know how to behave and be civil. Nothing to do with race, sex or sexual preference.

  5. If everyone would just ignore an organization that has ceased to be relevant years ago they would go away & take their race baiting shenanigans with them.

  6. Wow, get a clue y’all. Discrimination is real at American, although sometimes it does seem like a grey area with all of the customer un-friendly policies they have. I just recently witnessed what I felt was poor treatment of a young black family from CUR-MIA. You better believe I let American know.

  7. @John even treading lightly this claim is completely out of bounds. The ‘pattern’ they are hypothesizing COULD exist is based on incidents where the facts already don’t support racism.

    I agree completely that “African Americans are discriminated against by businesses every day” but that does not support the claim that American Airlines is a racist company, that they should be singled out amongst US airlines for a warning.

  8. The reality, of course, is that on any given day, ANYONE can be treated badly by an airline. The idea that there’s a concerted effort among AA employees to “treat the colored folk differently” is, frankly, preposterous. If the leadership of the NAACP doesn’t understand this, they are living on fantasy island. That said, politically, their strategy would seem to be effective. Notice that AA isn’t responding by saying they’re nuts. To the contrary, they’re grovelling a bit, offering to meet with them to discuss and resolve the issues. So playing “the race card” still works, at least to some extent.

    As a skin-pigment-challenged individual myself, I agree that it’s hard to fully appreciate the challenges that minorities can face in America (or anywhere in the world). I have no doubt there is discrimination, much of it undoubtedly subtle. Of course, there’s all sort of discrimination in the world, and it’s often NOT about race. Like some rich people are discriminated against by other rich people because they don’t like their pedigree (aka old money families discriminating against the nouveau riche).

    I do wonder if African-Americans are more likely to THINK they’re being discriminated against by airline employees because of their life experiences. Like I’m sure blacks are, on average, more distrusting of authority because authority is more likely to hassle them. As we all know, airline employees have a tendency to bark out orders like they’re in charge and you’d better obey them. If an airline employee barks at me, I think they’re doing it because that’s what they do. If an airline employee barks at a black person, they might be inclined to think it’s “the man” picking on them because of their race. And then, of course, you get “activists,” like Tamika Mallory, who have the tendency to see everything in black and white, and are even more likely to see any perceived slight to them as “racist.”

  9. Meh – fake blogging. American is guilty. They got caught trying to balance the aircraft when they found too much dead weight on the left wing. These folks need to sue for being disrespected, just as I need to sue LIAT when I was told to move from my seat to the back of the plane on a DASH 8 when the passenger weight was balanced prior to takeoff. I was disrespected based on religion and race since I was named for the Jewish king,.David, who was also the grandfather of the African Lion of Judah, Haile Selassie. But where is my NAACP travel warning?

  10. Well, the good news is that now I can comfortably fly AA without worrying about being seated next to some retarded skank named Poly.

  11. It would seem that many if not all of the comments on this topic are made with some type of “white privilege”. Unless you are a person of color and endure the slights or outright prejudice, you probably have little clue. Did you have to have “the conversation” with your children?

    Race is an issue in the USA and if your race is not white, there is prejudice.

  12. @ Gary – the NAACP hasn’t claimed that American is “racist” – those are your words, not theirs. They say that by flying American, passengers – especially African Americans – may be exposing themselves to “disrespectful, discriminatory or unsafe conditions”. Based on the number of people (of many races) who seem to be claiming the same thing on this airline, across the internet, it is possibly true. Again, just because YOU don’t see a pattern, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

    Conversely, the fact that they DO see a pattern, doesn’t make it true. But what they have issued is a carefully-worded advisory to their members and constituents. And the fact that they are focusing on American Airlines ONLY, and not the other airlines, suggests to me they may have enough research, and have enough circumstantial evidence, with enough of a pattern peculiar to American Airlines, to issue said warning.

  13. I guess as a person of color I have some authority on this issue.

    I can safely say that the NAACP was a wonderful organization 50 years ago; today it’s an embarrassment to people of color & needs these types of invented ‘discrimination’ events to stay relevant & keep taking in money in order to pay its highly compensated board.

    I don’t need any of the white people on this board telling me I’m wrong as you have no say in judging the matter.

  14. Gary – stick to travel blogging. Your expertise isn’t the legal field or politics (read: not a lawyer or politician). You have crossed the line from an occasional rant to @fakenews with this and many other politically charged rants supporting your causes / companies.

  15. Gary, great informative post. As for being Jewish the NAACP owes part of it’s longevity and success to the many donors of cash and legal support by Jews. That’s another fact.

    The problem today is that each group prints or spins only what they want people to hear not the real story which in this case you published. Shame on those who took it any other way than simply publishing the whole story. The “entitlement” sickens me we are well beyond all that. I too am jewish and grew up in Washington DC during the late fifties and 60’s so I speak from experience.

  16. Can the NAACP tell me what percentage of African Americans compared to what percent of other races have their seat assignments changed on American Airlines? Is it significantly different? Highly doubtful they know these numbers. Their anecdotes are meaningless. Unfortunately, these organizations have largely become extortionists.

  17. @john someone better amend the NAACP’s IRS form 990 then as it clearly shows it’s executive board being highly compensated (unless you don’t consider $300,000 + to be high?)

    As you said, Facts Matter

    (Also your attempt to mansplain how the naacp works to a poc is funny).

  18. I guess the NAACP doesn’t keep track of all the “white” people kicked off of flights or moved out of their seats or whatever….everyone’s eventually treated bad on AA’s planes except for CK’s (and even then I bet their travel volume includes some less than pleasant experiences).

    The best part is all of the “experts” on this comment section who claim that America the country (and by relation AA) is guilty of racism. Of course there are racists here…idiots are everywhere…all around the world (America is certainly no worse than anyplace I’ve been). But when people continue to call everyone a racist…or every less than perfect example of customer service racist it becomes a useless label. If only the NAACP spent it’s time on real examples of Racism…maybe it would become useful again.

  19. I just asked if a travel ban was coming to Chicago and my post was removed yet poly gets to spew his crap – nice.

  20. Have to admire your bravery here, Gary. As you can see by a few of the comments already, it’s obvious some will see racism whether there’s any real evidence for it or not. The mere accusation is about all that’s needed for evidence these days. Of course, yes, there is actual racism out there, which only makes what the NAACP is doing even worse. Crying “Wolf!!” way too often isn’t helping the REAL incidents of racism. But I also know, not being a person of color means I don’t have the right to voice my opinion on this, or maybe even have one? Yup, I’m just a white-privileged conservative Christian, so I have no idea what it’s like to have my personal freedom threatened or be disparaged, insulted, slandered, mocked, ridiculed….etc. So I apologize. I need to just bake the cake and shut up.

  21. According to NPR, 55% of white people believe they are discriminated against. Guess they should have a travel warning too.

  22. if Al and the naacp did not make a stink now and then, they would not keep getting donations

  23. @ Bogia. Those executives to whom you refer are employees, not Board Members. Not mansplaining at all – I looked at the same 990 you did.

  24. If you feel the desire to report this airline-related story you’d probably be best advised to report the facts about the press release and then follow your own policy to tread very lightly offering commentary on issues of race.

    A number of interpretations in the blog post are of questionably accuracy and could reasonably be taken as an attempt to stir up enmity rather than to consider the facts of the case. Indeed, the post itself seems to be, in part, an attempt to air grievances against the NAACP that are very similar to the grievances being aired by the NAACP, but with less specificity.

    I’ll be taking a break from this blog for a while. This post does not reflect the reasoned thought-leadership I come here for.

  25. @John – the executive board are board members by definition & yes also employees . Just because there are also other members who are on the board that receive no pay is meaningless to the initial accusation (that you attempted to discredit for some reason) that the NAACP needs to take in money to pay high salaries to highly compensate some board members

  26. The comments from your Black readers to you Gary are hilarious. You just don’t understand that AA’s Sabre Reservation System is programmed to make the travel experience worse only for Blacks! Who’d have thunk you had so many race baiting snowflake Black readers.

  27. Wow I was about to take a deep breath and dig in on this and then – @iahphx nailed it. Completely. Reread that post.

    AA really sucks these days for all kinds of new and different reasons, but I don’t believe this one.

  28. The great thing about this country is that even anti-white, anti-Semetic haters get a chance to spew their venom, as demonstrated here. We may not like their blind hatred, we may not like the kind of people they surely must be, but we are blessed that they have freedom of speech.

    That they want to take that freedom of speech away from those with whom they disagree, we’re not so blessed.

  29. @iahphx (October 25, 2017 at 7:30 am) wrote a very good post.

    It’s very sad that these types of stories generate the most comments and probably the most eyeball views too. If that’s true, wouldn’t websites in general be incentivized to stir up all kinds of $#!& to hit those monetization milestones?

  30. Just don’t go there, Gary. Oops, you already did. I second (third?) the admonition: stick to travel blogging and keep the politics out of it.

  31. Gary, what a wonderful piece of racist crap u wrote, or did someone from the White House write it. Red baiting and calling the NAACP anti Semitic is really a new low for u. White Jews are welcome at NAACP and were among their founders. As s white Man U degrade yourself telling the NAACP what is racist and what is not. U have no problem accusing blacks of being anti semetic. Trump would love reading your drivel

  32. You mean people of color expect to be treated well by American Airlines? Wow.

    Seriously, though, not one white person posting here (or just living in this society) knows what it is like to be black or brown in this society. While some people of color may incorrectly label an incident as racist, there is a well documented pattern of racism in this country as a whole. Racism is often subtle. There’s an online test one can take that is revealing to most as to the degree of racism they Harbor. People who are the targets of racism often receive even more wrath when they choose to speak out. Frankly, I don’t know about the facts of the pattern observed on AA. What I do know is that Gary doesn’t know them, either. The swipe at Jesse Jackson does not make his argument and in fact makes his conclusions suspect. The only statement that makes sense is he should tread lightly. This is not a case for the flyers that make up the majority of this readership to decide.

  33. @ LawEsq, this is ridiculous. The executive employees that receive compensation DO NOT sit on
    the Board of the NAACP. Do I have to repeat that? Just in case: executive employees that receive compensation DO NOT sit on the Board of the NAACP.

    If the original poster had said that the NAACP needs to raise lots of money to pay its executive employees, there would be no argument. But the suggestion was that Board Members get paid lots of money is simply untrue. And given the context (ie that it’s a lie), it sounds a little bit racist to me.

    In any case, as a lawyer, you should know that it’s just the facts that allow me to discredit the original poster’s fake argument. And your own.

  34. Would that I could put Pudgy Gary and most of the other non-POC commenters into a POC’s life for a month or two….

    Gary, normally if I’d read some white guy’s column that used the term “black mark” (really?!), dismissed obviously racist incidents, and quickly played the Jew card and I’d think that writer must be racist. But owing to the numerous (historically!) mistakes, incorrect grammar, and spelling errors in your posts I think it’s instead best to chalk it all up to the fact you’re just a poor and egotistical blogger who hasn’t yet mastered the English language.

  35. @poly gary gave a detailed break down of each incident and made a compelling argument how what happened was race neutral. Yet your response was to tell him to shutup because of his race and/or religion. Its his blog and he can post what he wants.

  36. Gary, this is disappointing. As others have pointed out, you say that as “a white (Jewish) man I’m wise to tread very lightly offering commentary on issues of race…” But you do the exact opposite. You start by calling the NAACP travel notice as a “farce.” Bro, just because you don’t agree with something or someone, it doesn’t mean legit issues aren’t there.

    For a historical perspective, a 1966 Gallup Survey found Dr. King with a 63% negative rating. I’m sure people called his protests and actions a farce too. But flash forward, now only 4% of american rate Dr. King negatively.

    I’m glad the NAACP is pushing. If this helps improves counter, gate and on-board for service for all American flyers, I’m for it. Once shouldn’t have to fly CX or the ME3 to be treated to great customer service.

    Up until this post, VFTW was one of my favorite stops for travel news, but your lack of thoughtfulness makes me want to go somewhere else.

  37. Those who scream racism the loudest are also the most racist themselves… The NAACP is a disgrace! Nothing more than the Klan with a tan!

    Keep pulling that tattered, overused race card… less and less people are giving a rat’s ass. Soon it will be COMPLETELY meaningless.

  38. Gary, Kol HaKavod, great post you are right on point here.

    That said why do you have to drag the whole Jews are/aren’t white topic into this matter? I know all the history and it remains debatable but I still don’t see why you had to ruin an otherwise great post with this.

    Otherwise you are on point and I wish you’d approach other topics with the same objectivity and intellectual honesty.

  39. @Steve @Randy — Thank you for the kind words.

    I do think “perception” plays a large role in this. People who are inclined to see discrimination can often find it.

    Here’s my personal anecdote. Earlier this year, I flew Spirit for the first time in forever. But I know a lot about the airline industry and I had flown Frontier recently, so I know the drill. I get to the gate where the gate agent was a young black female. She tells me my small carry-on is oversized and that will be $100. I “know” it’s not; it was a very small bag and I had even measured it for my earlier Frontier flight. Well, as it turns out, my bag WAS oversized — by less than a half inch on one side! And that was because Spirit was using a goofball sizer and their new rules that would make my bag fully compliant weren’t scheduled to go into effect for 2 more weeks!

    Now let’s say the tables were turned. Assume I was a young black female and the gate agent who hassled me about a de minimus and-soon-to-be-discarded “bag violation” was an older white male. If I then claimed it was “racist,” would you believe me? I’m sure some might. But it wasn’t racism. It was just an overzealous employee needlessly hassling a customer. And, sadly, I suspect this happens about 100 times more often at an airport than anything having to do with racism.

  40. I don’t understand the attacks on Gary here. He’s filled in the details of the stories omitted from the headlines. That is all.

    You can still argue that racism was involved, but it’s not like he’s made this up.

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