Black men sue American Airlines for ‘racial discrimination’

Video Caption, ‘There was a complaint about body odor’ – American Airlines filed a lawsuit

  • Author, Max Matza
  • Role, BBC news

Three black men have filed a lawsuit against American Airlines, claiming the airline briefly removed them from a flight after a complaint about body odor.

The men, who were not seated together and did not know each other, say every black man was removed from the Jan. 5 flight from Phoenix, Arizona, to New York.

“American Airlines singled us out because we are black, embarrassed and humiliated us,” the men said in a joint statement on Wednesday.

The Texas-based airline said it was investigating the matter because the allegations did not align with its values.

Image caption, From left: Alvin Jackson, Emmanuel Jean Joseph and Xavier Veal

According to a federal lawsuit filed by consumer group Public Citizen, the men had already taken their seats and were preparing to leave Phoenix when a flight attendant approached each of them and asked them to leave the plane.

Alvin Jackson, Emmanuel Jean Joseph and Xavier Veal claim that upon leaving they realized that “every black man on the flight was being removed”.

Each of the men had flown out of Los Angeles earlier that day without incident.

At the flight gate, the three men, along with five others, were told by an airline agent that they had been “removed because a white male flight attendant had complained about the body odor of an unknown passenger.”

“There is no other explanation than the color of our skin,” the men said in a statement on Wednesday, adding: “This was clearly racial discrimination.”

American Airlines employees tried to rebook the men on other flights, but there were no other flights to New York that night. The group was allowed to retake their seats on their original flight at that time.

American Airlines said in a statement: “We take all claims of discrimination very seriously and want our customers to have a positive experience when they choose to fly with us.

“Our teams are currently investigating the matter as the claims do not reflect our core values ​​or our purpose of caring for people.”

The lawsuit adds that while the men waited outside the plane, the pilot made an announcement telling passengers there was a delay due to a “body odor” problem. The plaintiffs say the odor claim was false.

“Throughout the flight – from the moment they reboarded, during each interaction with the white male flight attendant and continuing until landing – Plaintiffs experienced profound feelings of shame, humiliation, fear, anger and anxiety,” the lawsuit said .

“The fact that they returned to their seats after the unjustified delay and navigated past the predominantly white passengers, some of whom looked at them with anger and unnecessary suspicion, compounded their humiliation.”

The lawsuit states that the airline should be forced to pay unspecified damages for the “trauma” the men suffered.

One of the men who filed suit, Mr Joseph, told the BBC that the “alienating” experience reminded him of civil rights hero Rosa Parks who was forced to sit in the back of a bus in Alabama in 1955 due to state-sanctioned racial discrimination .

“It’s a strange, crazy story that in 2024 we’re still experiencing things like this,” Mr Joseph said.

He added that the lawsuit is necessary to ensure that American Airlines does not end “with a slap on the wrist.”

In 2017, the NAACP, a civil rights organization, issued a travel advisory urging Black Americans to avoid American Airlines due to discrimination.

They withdrew the advisory the following year after the carrier announced changes to its operations.

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