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NAACP issues travel advisory, cautioning African Americans about flying American Airlines

This is what prompted the oldest civil rights organization in the country to issue an advisory warning African Americans against flying American Airlines. (Video: Claritza Jimenez/The Washington Post)
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The nation’s oldest civil rights organization, citing a “troubling pattern of disturbing incidents,” urged travelers — particularly those who are African American — to rethink whether they should fly with American Airlines.

In a statement released Tuesday night, officials with the NAACP said the travel advisory would remain in effect “until further notice.”

“The NAACP for several months now has been monitoring a pattern of disturbing incidents reported by African-American passengers, specific to American Airlines,” according to a news release. “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.”

In a letter sent to employees Wednesday morning, American Airlines President Doug Parker said he was disappointed to learn of the travel advisory, but that the airline was committed to listening to the NAACP’s concerns:

Dear Fellow Team Members,
Of all the really important things our team members do — and that list is long — bringing people together is at the top. We fly over borders, walls and stereotypes to connect people from different races, religions, nationalities, economic backgrounds and sexual orientations. We make the world a smaller, more inclusive place. And we do it professionally and safely every day for more than 500,000 customers across five continents.
So, we were disappointed to learn of a travel advisory issued by the NAACP regarding American Airlines. The mission statement of the NAACP states that it “seeks to remove all barriers of racial discrimination.” That’s a mission that the people of American Airlines endorse and facilitate every day — we do not and will not 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.
As we work through this in concert with the NAACP, please keep doing the great and noble work you always do: treat our customers and each other with respect; connect diverse groups of people with each other and allow them to see the world; make the world a smaller and more open place; and do it professionally and safely.

American Airlines spokeswoman Shannon Gilson reiterated that the airline is committed to providing “a positive, safe travel experience for everyone who flies with us.”

In issuing the advisory, NAACP officials cited four recent incidents of “troublesome conduct” by the airline and said they “suggest a corporate culture of racial insensitivity and possible racial bias on the part of American Airlines.”  The incidents involved black passengers being removed from flights for various reasons, including disputes with crew members over how the customers were being treated. Once case involved travelers responding to disrespectful comments made by other passengers, who were white, the organization said.

NAACP spokesman Malik Russell said so far the organization has only heard of incidents on American Airlines flights. He said, however that the group is adding a link to its website to allow people to report similar incidents.

In the release, Derrick Johnson, president and CEO of the NAACP, said:  ‘All travelers must be guaranteed the right to travel without fear of threat, violence or harm. The growing list of incidents suggesting racial bias reflects an unacceptable corporate culture and involves behavior that cannot be dismissed as normal or random.”

The advisory will remain in place until the organization has met with American Airlines officials and its concerns are addressed. Officials did not respond to questions about whether they have previously contacted the airline about the reported incidents.

In August, the organization issued a travel advisory warning African Americans to exercise extreme caution when traveling in Missouri. The NAACP’s action was in response to a bill passed by the state legislature that would make it more difficult for minorities and women to sue for discrimination. But the organization also expressed concerns about the high numbers of African Americans being stopped by police when compared to other motorists.

NAACP issues warning to African Americans visiting Missouri

This new travel advisory comes just a few days after the organization announced it had hired Johnson as its 19th president and CEO. Johnson, 49, had served as the NAACP’s interim leader since July following the departure of the group’s previous leader Cornell William Brooks in May.

In an interview with the Associated Press shortly after the announcement, Johnson said the NAACP would be far more politically active in coming years and would seek to change its nonprofit status so it could more effectively lobby for its members.

This is a developing story and will be updated.