Know Your Rights; NAACP Issues Travel Warning Against American Airlines

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Image via Los Angeles Times

On Tuesday, the NAACP announced a travel advisory urging African-American passengers to be cautious when traveling with American Airlines.

The civil rights organization said they found a “pattern of disturbing incidents” and issued a statement warning African-Americans about their safety.

“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.”

The statement goes on to list four incidents that occurred over the course of 18 months in which American Airlines discriminated against African-American passengers.

“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,” the NAACP said of one incident.

In another case, An African-American woman and her infant child were removed from a flight from Atlanta to New York City when the woman asked that her stroller be retrieved from the checked baggage before The flight departed.

If an individual has an complaint that alleges discriminatory treatment in air travel by personnel of an air carrier or its contractors (e.g., pilots, gate agents, flight attendants) on the basis of disability or on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, religion or ancestry, that individual is encouraged to to file a complaint with the Department Of Travel’s Aviation Consumer Protection Division.

If the Enforcement Office finds an airline policy or procedure is not in compliance with the law, it would direct the carrier to change its policy or procedure, warn the carrier about potential enforcement action if similar complaints continue to be received, and recommend additional civil rights customer relations training for the employees involved, if appropriate. If this does not solve the problem, the Enforcement Office may bring an enforcement action against the carrier.

Generally, the Enforcement Office will pursue enforcement action on the basis of a number of complaints from which it may infer a pattern or practice of discrimination. However, where one or a few complaints describe particularly egregious conduct on the part of a carrier and those complaints are supported by adequate evidence, the Enforcement Office will pursue enforcement action as its resources permit. In an enforcement case, DOT is limited to issuing cease and desist orders and assessing civil penalties (fines). Such action can only be accomplished through settlements or formal hearings before administrative law judges. It cannot order compensation for aggrieved parties. To obtain a personal monetary award of damages, a complainant would have to file a private legal action that might be based on private contract rights or on civil rights statutes that provide for private rights of action (e.g., 42 U.S.C. § 1981).

On Wednesday American Airlines Chairman and CEO Doug Parker shared a letter with the airline’s 120,000 employees. In the letter, Parker said American Airlines does not tolerate discrimination of any kind and is “disappointed” with the NAACP’s travel advisory.

“We were disappointed to learn of a travel advisory issued by the NAACP regarding American Airlines,” Parker said. “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.”

Thankfully, it seems as though the two sides will get together to discuss the situation. Parker invited the NAACP and their leaders to the American Airlines headquarters in Texas.

“We will invite representatives of the NAACP to meet with our team at our headquarters in Fort Worth, Texas. We are committed to having a meaningful dialogue about our airline and are ready to both listen and engage.”

However, NAACP’s vice president of communications, Aba Blankson told ABC News that the advisory is indefinite — and the organization will only reconsider after having their conversation with the airline.

This marks the second travel advisory issued by the civil rights organization this year. In August, the NAACP urged African-American travelers to use “extreme caution” while traveling through Missouri because they could be subject to “discrimination and harassment.”

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