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Citing what it characterizes as a pattern of racial discrimination and “disturbing incidents,” the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People sent out a national alert to African-Americans warning them that they could be treated unfairly when traveling on American Airlines.
“[We are] alerting travelers — especially African-Americans — to exercise caution, in that booking and boarding flights on American Airlines could subject them to disrespectful, discriminatory or unsafe conditions,” the statement read.
The NAACP said it would consider its advisory active “until further notice.”
AA CEO and chairman Doug Parker said he was “disappointed” by the NAACP’s decision, and that the company wouldn’t tolerate “discrimination of any kind.”
“We have reached out to the NAACP and are eager to meet with them to listen to their issues and concerns,” he said in a statement.
Briana Williams, a 24-year-old student at Harvard Law School, said Parker’s statement was too little, too late.
“I’m not buying it, honestly,” she said in a telephone interview.
In late August, she had boarded an AA plane in Atlanta (ATL) bound for New York-JFK, and was stuck on the aircraft as it sat on the tarmac for several hours. Passengers were asked to disembark and remain in the terminal for an unspecified amount of time, so Williams, who was carrying her four-month-old daughter, asked for her stroller to be brought up from checked luggage.
“I had my camera bags, book bags, diaper bags, laptop — I couldn’t carry all this stuff,” she said.
A flight attendant said Williams’s request had to be decided by the captain, who immediately escalated the situation. He reacted by angrily confronting Williams and another African-American passenger and calling in law enforcement to remove Williams from the plane, she said.
“He told them, ‘This girl is a threat to me, she is belligerent, get her off the plane,'” Williams said. “I think he knew that when he said I was a threat to him, he had been talking about color. It’s often code used by non-African-Americans against blacks.”
The AA pilot was not African-American, she said.
She was rebooked for a flight to New York at 7am the next morning, but she and her infant ended up having to spend the night in the Atlanta airport without a change of clothes or supplies for the baby. She had to pay for a night at a New York hotel that she never got to stay at.
The NAACP pinpointed Williams’s and three other specific incidents that gave it cause for concern. In the first, an African-American man’s seat was taken away after a verbal altercation involving “disrespectful and discriminatory comments directed toward him by two unruly white passengers.” In the second, an African-American woman was demoted from first class to coach while her white companion remained in first class; the third saw a pilot order an African-American woman removed from his plane when she complained about her altered seat assignment.
“The growing list of incidents suggesting racial bias reflects an unacceptable corporate culture and involves behavior that cannot be dismissed as normal or random,” NAACP president and CEO Derrick Johnson said in the organization’s statement.
AA has gotten bad press for other allegedly race-based incidents as well. In February, for example, R&B singer Jason Derulo said AA workers cursed at him at Miami International Airport (MIA) when a dispute arose over his entourage’s checked baggage.
“I felt like he was trying to make it seem like we were delinquents,” Derulo told People. I was like, ‘Listen, sir, you’re not going to talk down to me; I’m not your son. Don’t talk to me in that tone of voice.’”
He said that the AA staff’s attitude toward him changed once they discovered he was famous.
After Williams’s run-in, AA reached out and offered her 25,000 airline miles and a $200 hotel voucher. She turned them down and is now seeking an attorney to file a lawsuit.
“I never got an apology,” she said.
NAACP and AA representatives did not return calls for comment in time for publication.
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