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. @iahphx Again, bingo. When the AA gate agent back at the old AUS Bobby Mueller saw me, late & running up the hallway for his flight to ORD – and then rushed out from behind the podium to slam the open door in my face and then smugly deny my boarding — race had nothing to do with it. Although it was the closest I’ve come to white on white violence …

    BTW, none of these 4 incidents’ legitimacy are being challenged in MSM, even on CNN. Cornell Brooks, the fired NAACP president, was just on there pontificating, and actually sounding like a knee-jerk racist, implying that the organization had been targeting AA for some months.

    Who knows, maybe Dougie gets blown out and it’s a win-win for all.

  2. @Steve — Parker’s not losing his job over this issue. Did you see his letter to employees (that was then released to the public)? It’s a brilliant piece of corporate PR. He’s not going to “go to war” with the NAACP over this, even if they’re acting like idiots. Some reporter will ask about this at tomorrow’s earnings call and Parker will again play nice. You’ll never hear about it again. Maybe the airline will buy off their leadership with a few first class tickets and they’ll be happy (enough) with the airline.

  3. I recently flew Buffalo to JFK on Delta and all of JFK was shut down due to a storm, so they were delaying flights at points of origin. After sitting at the gate waiting for updates at the Buffalo airport for a few hours, Delta finally delayed the flight until the next morning. So before heading out to the hotel I booked for the night, I waited in line to speak with a gate agent to confirm details of the next morning’s flight.

    I stood there for 15 minutes watching the middle aged, african american woman in front of me in line yell, curse and accuse the gate agent of racism for not re-accommodating her on a different flight or offering to pay for her hotel. The poor agent just kept calmly repeating that since it was due to weather, there were no other flights to JFK, regardless of how urgent it was for her to return to JFK that night, and since it was due to weather, they don’t provide hotel. I finally had to chime in and say it’s not this poor guys fault, there’s a storm at JFK. She looked like she was going to rip my face off and told me to mind my own F* business and asked who the F is talking to you? I told her it is my business because you’re monopolizing the 1 agent’s time and we are all standing here waiting for you to be done yelling at him for the weather.

    Delta diffused the situation by sending a second gate agent over to help all the rest of us so this one lady could continue brow beating this poor dude, for who knows how much longer. So my gut is to say these airlines do a damn good job of showing patience with this kind of nonsense since it is becoming obvious that some minorities have learned to use the racism accusations as a weapon to exert pressure. Enough is enough. It should be illegal to levy accusations of racism if unproven.

  4. Good points, Gary. It’s disappointing to see people in the comments section attack you for your race, religion, and appearance instead of reading the article and responding to the facts. Please continue to keep up the good work.

  5. @ iahphx: You say that “People who are inclined to see discrimination can often find it.”

    How would you possibly know this? Is this some sort of fact for which you can provide me a scientific study? Or is it rather an opinion based on…well, an anecdote for an event you describe (black customer, white male check in agent) that didn’t actually occur?

    “But it wasn’t racism”, you say, to conclude your hypothetical story. Well, you wouldn’t know because it never actually happened. I would call this total intellectual dishonesty.

    Let’s try this instead. Please provide me one anecdote in which you describe how you’ve been discriminated against because of your race. And then tell me how you knew it was racism.

  6. I’m a minority and I totally agree with some of the comments, like @iahphx. Oftentimes when my friends get bad service or they perceive another person is rude to them, their first reaction is the other person is being racist. Yes, that may be true sometimes, but sometimes my friends get bad service because my friends are rude or loud or demanding or whatever. The service people aren’t necessarily treating us badly because of our color, it’s probably because we’re acting like assholes. Every time people play the race card just because, it seems to take away from The credibility of actual racism. Overt racism is pretty obvious when people shout the n-word at me when they drive by. A couple of times I’ve had people tell me that they don’t serve my kind, but that’s also possibly not racist. Maybe they meant they don’t like tall guys, handsome people, people who support a certain sports team… Can’t really be sure but it’s wrong to assume that every negative experience is related to my skin color.

  7. Fall fundraising event.

    Some years ago Americans learned to sue. And everyone was hoping to get lucky and have an opportunity to sue for something big. Like spilling hot coffee in your lap.

    Now Americans learned to be offended. Everyone now has a right to be offended. People are looking for opportunities to be offended. Then they learn to monetize it. If you get offended enough you get something for it so why not try to be offended all the time as much as you can.
    America lost common sense.

    And before we start playing guess the race of this white racist – I’m an ethnic foreign immigrant who came to the US over 20 years ago.

  8. @iahphx Sadly I’m sure you are right.

    @John “Please provide me one anecdote in which you describe how you’ve been discriminated against because of your race. And then tell me how you knew it was racism.” I absolutely could. (talk to people is the service industries, particularly bartenders) But I know you wouldn’t accept any of my examples anyway. Let’s face it, you don’t have any current science on these topics either. But everybody has anecdotes. And anecdotes are sometimes like (armpits), almost everybody has one and they almost always stink. However that doesn’t completely discount observational skills and some common sense.

    There are (armpits) of all races. But crying wolf with the race card just doesn’t help.

  9. @ Steve – I think you misinterpret what I am trying to say.

    You say that you can offer an anecdote in which you were discriminated against because of your race, and you say that you know it’s racism. Just like anyone else might. The point I am trying to make is that you may well be right, and I wouldn’t know. My guess is that YOU are far more likely to identify someone being racist towards you than I am, as an observer, or with second hand accounts of that incident.

    My argument is simply that you (like iahphx) are making assumptions about which we can’t know. And there are lots of scientific studies on discriminatory behavior such as racism and sexism and homophobia that show that most people who are not directly affected by racist / sexist / homophobic discrimination are unlikely to be able to identify it. Their own preconceived notion of what those behaviors are or SHOULD be, make them….well, biased.

    The larger point is reflected in that iahphx hasn’t offered an anecdote. Perhaps because it has never happened to him or her (in which case I would argue that it’s hard for him / her to make generalizations about how he or she would respond to or identify it). Alternatively, he HAS got an anecdote of being discriminated against because of his race, which would make me ask why he is so sure that a pattern of incidents identified by someone else DON’T amount to racism.

    Understanding that you don’t know what you don’t know is key to human evolution.

    And by saying that you think iahphx is right, I already know that it’ll be hard to convince you otherwise. Unless I, too, was to provide a made up anecdote to not-really-prove a point, as he / she has done.

  10. I just saw this article and have not attempted to wade through the 60+ comments so far, although John’s (not me) last comment looked good.

    My beef is with Gary’s original post where he states: “Like many gatherings of diverse people, the organization (NAACP) 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).”

    Claiming that communism and anti-semitism are black marks on the NAACP has to be one of the biggest leaps ever made on this blog. Gary cites two articles to support his statement. The first article talks about the fact that equal rights for Blacks (and Jews) was a goal of the communist party dating back to the 1930s and that the communist party in Alabama was somewhat effective in assisting the civil rights movement there.

    The NAACP is an international organization consisting of scores and scores of state and local chapters. Nowhere in the article Gary cites does it assert that the Alabama NAACP chapter or any other NAACP chapter supported communism or a communist form of government

    As far as being anti semitic, other than the fact that he is Black, how does a statement by Jesse Jackson cast a black mark on the NAACP? Jackson was part of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), a completely different organization from, and a direct competitor to, the NAACP. To attribute Jackson’s statements to the NAACP smacks of a “lump’em all together” mentality. Furthermore, the anti-semitic statement by the head of the Dallas NAACP chapter that the other article is about got the guy immediately repudiated and suspended by the national NAACP.

    So Gary seems to be approaching the NAACP’s current claims from a biased perspective. Given that airlines employ hundreds of thousands of people with all kinds of views on race, it is a certainty that discrimination because of race still occurs in the airline industry. Unless we have investigated these incidents, as I’m assuming the NAACP did, then it is impossible for anyone to say what was really going on.

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