‘You Should Be Fired If Incompetent’: American Airlines Suspends Employees Involved In Removing Black Men from Flight Over Body Odor as CEO Promises to ‘Regain Trust’

Several American Airlines employees have been suspended following a humiliating incident in January in which every Black man was removed from an airline before takeoff after one employee accused them of emitting a foul body odor.

But the eight Black men were scattered throughout the plane and did not even know one other and were not even sitting together when they were singled out one by one by a male flight attendant whose name has not been made public.

American Airlines CEO wants to regain trust after Black men were removed from flight
American Airlines CEO Robert Isom (right) pledges to make things right after several Black men were removed from a flight over alleged body odor. (Credit: YouTube/CBS News Screengrab/Getty)

It was not until they were off the plane that an American Airlines employee informed them that “someone had complained about an offensive body odor,” according to the lawsuit filed last month by three of the Black men who had exchanged contact information with each other during the incident.

When the Black men accused the airline of racial discrimination, the employee outside the plane responded by saying, “I agree, I agree,” but did nothing to correct the situation, according to the lawsuit filed by Alvin Jackson, Emmanuel Jean Joseph, and Xavier Veal, who all live in New York City.

American Airlines told the men they would be placed on a separate flight but were unable to do so after an hour so they were allowed back onto the original plane where they had to endure the stares and glares from white passengers who had been informed the delay in takeoff was due to these men emitting a foul body odor.

But none of the men were emitting a foul body odor, according to the lawsuit which states the incident took place at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport in Arizona during a layover from Los Angeles to New York City.

“They suffered during the entire flight home, and the entire incident was traumatic, upsetting, scary, humiliating, and degrading,” the lawsuit states.

The Backlash

Since the filing of the lawsuit on May 29, shares of American Airlines have dropped by two dollars, going from more than $13 a share, where it had remained since the beginning of the year, to just over $11 a share, where it has remained for almost a month.

The lawsuit was then followed by a statement from the NAACP on June 4 accusing American Airlines of displaying a pattern of racist incidents going back years, threatening to issue another travel advisory recommending Black people avoid flying with American Airlines as the organization did in 2017 following a series of high profile incidents against Black passengers.

Now American Airlines CEO Robert Isom is describing the latest incident as “unacceptable” and vows to take action in order to “regain trust.”

Some following the news across social media had mixed reactions to the news. Many asking whether the passenger with the alleged foul odor was ever identified. Another called for the employees to be fired.

”Why??? If you’re incompetent you should be fired,” wrote one user on X.

“I am incredibly disappointed by what happened on that flight and the breakdown of our procedures,” Isom stated in his letter which was issued to employees on June 18, according to NPR which obtained a copy. “We fell short of our commitments and failed our customers in this incident.”

But American Airlines said the same thing in 2017 when the NAACP issued its travel advisory that ended up lasting nine months, only for the incidents to continue.

According to the NAACP’s statement:

“The NAACP is proud to champion efforts to hold corporations accountable. The removal of our travel advisory in 2018 came as a result of a commitment to deliver on key stipulations that would prevent future discriminatory acts, one of which was a diversity, equity, and inclusion advisory council. Amidst the resurgence of attacks on DEI, American Airlines disbanded the panel in 2023. 

Recent discriminatory actions from company employees prove that there is a dire need for continued accountability and resolution to this clear pattern. We encourage American Airlines to come revive the advisory panel and reconvene with the NAACP to devise a path forward that ensures equitable experiences for all American Airlines customers. Without a swift and decisive response, the NAACP will be forced to reinstate an advisory against the airline.”

Isom’s letter promises the following, according to NPR:

  • Creating an advisory group that will focus on improving the travel experience for Black customers,
  • Reviewing and enhancing the company’s internal reporting process for cases involving allegations of discrimination or bias,
  • Reevaluating its policies, practices, protocols and organization culture to recognize and identify areas for growth and improvement,
  • And, educating its employees to “recognize and address bias and discrimination.”

American Airlines has earned a notorious reputation among passengers of all races and ethnicities, and has been named the least reliable airline in the world by Forbes.

Previous Incidents

One of the most recent incidents took place earlier this year involved a retired Black judge who claims in an April 2024 lawsuit that an American Airlines flight attendant told her to “use the restroom at the back of the plane” even though she and her family had booked first-class tickets.

Last year, a Black mother filed a lawsuit against American Airlines after her 14-year-old son died of a heart attack on a flight from Honduras to Miami when the airline’s defibrillator failed to work because it had not been properly charged. 

And another incident involved a disabled Black man who was traveling from Indianapolis to St. Louis when the airline lost his prosthetic leg which he had checked in with his luggage. Michael Williams said he spent three years trying to get reimbursed for the prosthetic leg but was only reimbursed $600 even though it had cost him $26,500.

“It’s to the point where I don’t want to fly,” Williams said at the time. “I feel like if I fly again, what if I have to fly with my wheelchair and they lose my wheelchair this time. And they tell me, ‘We lost your power wheelchair, but hey, we’re not going to do anything about it.’ It’s like, what do you do?”

The 2017 travel advisory from the NAACP was issued a week after New York activist and Women’s March co-chair Tamika Mallory was removed from an American Airlines flight over a dustup she had with gate agent after her seat assignment was changed, which she described to the New York Post as “white male aggression.”

Another incident leading up to the travel advisory took place in 2016 involving William Barber, president of the NAACP North Carolina chapter, who was kicked off a plane after complaining about two drunk white passengers sitting behind him who were speaking loudly with each other. A police officer was called to escort him off the plane after one of the white passengers told a flight attendant he did not like “those people,” according to Barber’s lawsuit.

After the NAACP issued its travel advisory in October 2017, then-CEO of American Airlines Doug Parker issued a similar statement to what the current CEO said in his recent letter.

“We do not and will not tolerate discrimination of any kind,” Parker said at the time. “We have reached out to the NAACP and are eager to meet with them to listen to their issues and concerns.”

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