American Kicks Random Black Men Off Flight Over Body Odor, CEO Apologizes

American Kicks Random Black Men Off Flight Over Body Odor, CEO Apologizes

51

A few weeks ago, I wrote about how American Airlines is facing yet another lawsuit for discrimination. Admittedly we had only one side of the story at the time, but I couldn’t come up with any innocent explanation whereby the airline wasn’t completely out of line.

There’s now an update, as the airline has apologized for what happened. Let’s go over the basics of the case, and then we’ll look at American’s apology, and how the airline claims it will prevent a similar event in the future.

American removes Black men from plane over body odor

A federal lawsuit has been filed against American Airlines, related to an incident that occurred on a flight from Phoenix (PHX) to New York (JFK) back in January 2024. The lawsuit has been filed by three Black men, and alleges racial discrimination.

According to the lawsuit, shortly after boarding, eight Black men were all asked to get off the aircraft, without initially being given an explanation. The three passengers who filed a lawsuit didn’t know one another, and the only thing they had in common was the color of their skin. For that matter, all Black passengers that they saw were removed from the plane, while no one of any other race was.

Once off the plane, the men were told that one of the flight attendants complained about the body odor of an unidentified passenger, which somehow caused all of these passengers to be removed. There’s even video footage of a man asking the gate agent if he was removed from the plane because of the color of his skin, and she responded “correct.”

The men were initially told that they had to be rebooked on another flight. However, after a significant delay, and the gate agents reportedly not being able to find other flights for the men, they were all told to once again board the same aircraft.

The lawsuit describes the incident as being traumatic, upsetting, scary, humiliating, and degrading. After all, the men had to once again board the same aircraft, where the other passengers viewed them as the cause of the delay.

After the flight, the men had tried to reach out to American for an explanation as to why they were removed from the plane. When the airline refused to clarify, the men decided to sue.

This situation is utterly unacceptable

Frontline airline employees have a lot of power and discretion. I can appreciate how it got to this point, given that the airline industry operates with a “better safe than sorry” philosophy, in order to avoid incidents once an aircraft is airborne. However, it’s also too common for us to see airline employees abuse their power in a way that’s just disgusting.

For example, several weeks ago I wrote about how two Orthodox Jewish passengers were removed from an American flight. They didn’t know one another, and the only thing they had in common was their appearance. The airline apparently intended to remove one of them from the plane (for repeatedly asking a safety question), but the decision was made to kick them both off.

As much as I think the United States is a bit too litigious at times, there needs to be accountability for large corporations, and maybe a lawsuit is what will accomplish that. Suffice it to say that collective punishment based on race or religion is not an acceptable way to do business, and it’s even worse when there’s a pattern of this behavior.

I also can’t wrap my head around the complete lack of common sense applied by frontline employees in these situations. Like, how exactly did this conversation go among employees?

“Hey, we need to remove one of the passengers due to body odor.”
“Okay, which passenger?”
“A Black guy.”
“Which one?”
“I don’t know, let’s just remove them all.”

I’m not even trying to joke, because there’s nothing funny about this. But how else could that conversation have gone? How do you get to the point where you’re walking around the cabin just telling all Black people to get off?

And then even when all the men were off the plane and at the gate, did no one go “hmmm, you know, maybe we didn’t really think this one through?”

American CEO apologizes for this incident

In addition to apologizing directly to the passengers, American Airlines CEO Robert Isom has also issued an internal memo talking about the incident, as shared by @xJonNYC. Here’s what Isom says, in part:

It is important we address an unacceptable incident where eight Black passengers were temporarily removed and reboarded on one of our flights.

I am incredibly disappointed by what happened on that flight and the breakdown of our procedures. It contradicts our values, what we stand for, who we are and our purpose of caring for people on life’s journey. We fell short of our commitments and we failed our customers in this incident. As a team, we have committed to listen, learn and grow — and together, build a welcoming culture for our team members and customers. This work is driven by accountability and our leadership attributes — a core tenet of which is caring.

The memo goes on to share the immediate actions that will be taken to address this issue, as well as the long term strategy to strengthen diversity and inclusion at the airline. Here are some of the initiatives:

  • American will establish a new oversight and excellence advisory group with a focus on improving the travel experience for Black customers
  • American will strengthen oversight and reporting mechanisms, by reviewing internal reporting processes to ensure swift and transparent handling of future incidents and customer concerns related to allegations of discrimination or bias
  • American will reevaluate policies, practices, protocols, and organizational culture to identify areas for growth and improvement
  • American will enhance annual diversity, equity, and inclusion education series, and launching new training for team members that will move beyond education and focus on real-world situations to help recognize and address bias and discrimination

Bottom line

American is facing a lawsuit, whereby the airline is accused of racial discrimination for kicking eight men off a flight for body odor. The men didn’t know one another, and the only thing they had in common was the color of their skin. Sadly this isn’t even the first time that American is accused of something like this…

American’s CEO has now directly issued an apology over the incident, and talked about steps that will be taken to prevent something like this in the future. It disgusts me that something like this could happen in the future, though I at least appreciate that the carrier has apologized without mincing words.

What do you make of this American situation, and the CEO’s apology?

Conversations (51)
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  1. Zeek Guest

    That CEO memo looks like something CHATGPT wrote. Just tell us that the individuals involved were let go. Done deal.

  2. RF Diamond

    AA seems to never be able to carry out their slogans. Whether it's "Going for great" or "caring for people on life’s journey."
    Change needs to come from the top and the C-Suite needs to be kicked out the door.

  3. Ken Guest

    I am glad ceo apologized, I guess he had to given that there is a video evidence. But in reality so many subtle discrimination incidents go unpunished because there is no solid evidence.
    Even just giving that look can eat someone inside. Imagine just getting that look that make you feel inferior all the time when you are just another human being, worse if you are far better accomplished person than the one who...

    I am glad ceo apologized, I guess he had to given that there is a video evidence. But in reality so many subtle discrimination incidents go unpunished because there is no solid evidence.
    Even just giving that look can eat someone inside. Imagine just getting that look that make you feel inferior all the time when you are just another human being, worse if you are far better accomplished person than the one who gave you the look simply because of your race, gender etc. It really destroys people mentally and make them angry and rebellious

  4. Duck Ling Guest

    I just do not get how this kinda stuff continually happens at US carriers. What is the procedure (if any) a Flight Attendant must follow if they want to offload a passenger??

    I am a Purser for a major european legacy airline. If I want to offload someone during boarding the SOP is I MUST have a discussion with the Captain about it. And the discussion in this circumstance would go a little like...

    I just do not get how this kinda stuff continually happens at US carriers. What is the procedure (if any) a Flight Attendant must follow if they want to offload a passenger??

    I am a Purser for a major european legacy airline. If I want to offload someone during boarding the SOP is I MUST have a discussion with the Captain about it. And the discussion in this circumstance would go a little like this:

    Me: Captain, I want to offload 8 pax.

    Captain: Why is that Duck Ling?

    Me: Because one of them has BO.

    Captain: So why do you want to offload 8.

    Me: Because I can't tell WHO has the BO but it is a black man and so I want to offload 8 black men.

    Captain: OK. I think it's YOU that I need to stand down and offload from the flight Duck Ling.

  5. Lee Guest

    If the gate agent casually walked up the aisle and back and if the odor was as bad as the flight attendant claimed, the gate agent would be able to identify the guy. And, no other passengers would need to be disturbed. Also, if the odor was NOT as bad as the flight attendant claimed, the gate agent would NOT be able to identify anyone. And, no passengers would need to be disturbed. It doesn't take a rocket scientist.

  6. Tom Guest

    It was an isolated incident, due to one or two employees, who were probably fired, and the airline's being sued. Creating some "oversight and excellence advisory group with a focus on improving the travel experience for Black customer" is a huge overreaction and just more "diversity and inclusion" nonsense, all of which really just means discriminating against white people in favor of minorities. Like Scalia said, you stop discrimination by simply stopping discrimination, not by...

    It was an isolated incident, due to one or two employees, who were probably fired, and the airline's being sued. Creating some "oversight and excellence advisory group with a focus on improving the travel experience for Black customer" is a huge overreaction and just more "diversity and inclusion" nonsense, all of which really just means discriminating against white people in favor of minorities. Like Scalia said, you stop discrimination by simply stopping discrimination, not by discriminating in the opposite direction.

    1. Lee Guest

      You make it sound as if the goal of "improving the travel experience for Black customers" is to provide Black people with a travel experience that is better than others. It's not. The goal is to provide Black people with a travel experience that is equal to others . . . to simply stop discrimination. You say it was an isolated incident. Was it? Your filters cloud your vision. Different shades of this type of incident happen all of the time.

    2. Zeek Guest

      Do we have evidence that American discriminates against blacks customers or employees on a systemic level where management condones such behavior. I'm not aware of any specific incidents.

      The person or people involved should be held accountable. The CEO should say that they investigated what happened, lay out what happened, and confirm that the culpable employees were terminated.

      Creating an advisory group on how to treat black customers on airlines sounds like some bullshit...

      Do we have evidence that American discriminates against blacks customers or employees on a systemic level where management condones such behavior. I'm not aware of any specific incidents.

      The person or people involved should be held accountable. The CEO should say that they investigated what happened, lay out what happened, and confirm that the culpable employees were terminated.

      Creating an advisory group on how to treat black customers on airlines sounds like some bullshit corporate response.

    3. LK Guest

      READ the article- something similar happened recently with 2 Orthodox Jewish passengers

    4. George Romey Guest

      Agreed. It's just about a bunch of corporate speak anyway. Do you honestly think airlines are going to start giving free upgrades based upon skin color? Since none of us were there we can only go on by what was published. But if someone had bad body odor it should be been easy to identify.

    5. RF Diamond

      "Probably fired" is not good enough.

  7. Susan Guest

    One does not need to be black skinned or Jewish looking to be discriminated by these major corporations. The CEO's sit up on a soap box as if they are the holy father and make decrees.

    I am a woman, I have earned without credit card deals, both Marriott Titanium Lifetime (which I also had Starwood Platinum/Ambassador which became Platinum Lifetime as well before the merger).

    I am not muslim but my last name may...

    One does not need to be black skinned or Jewish looking to be discriminated by these major corporations. The CEO's sit up on a soap box as if they are the holy father and make decrees.

    I am a woman, I have earned without credit card deals, both Marriott Titanium Lifetime (which I also had Starwood Platinum/Ambassador which became Platinum Lifetime as well before the merger).

    I am not muslim but my last name may lead some to think so. I have been discriminated by Marriott, Hilton, Hyatt, United, Lufthansa to name a few.

    Over the years I have had to write many letters, accompanied by phone calls to cut throw the prejudice.

    A woman can't achieve all this can they? Its a man's world, they are the travellers, the road warriors, but not a woman.

    Its a real shame. I do believe all those who discriminate will ultimately pay a price, as many balked and bullied me without proper compensation for their mistakes, including more recently Anthony Capuano.

    That's my story, would love to hear other woman warriors out there who've been prejudiced.

  8. Dwondermeant Guest

    Did all of them smell bad or just one?
    I assume if they were apologized too then they didn’t all stink?

  9. iamhere Guest

    I think it goes back to basic training when you become an employee of the airline. Perhaps it comes to basic values and human nature that we are taught when growing up. What sticks out is how all of these incidents happen in the US. These rarely happen in other countries and jurisdictions. It is not just about discrimination. There are also many other situations that do not happen elsewhere (e.g. taking advantage of service...

    I think it goes back to basic training when you become an employee of the airline. Perhaps it comes to basic values and human nature that we are taught when growing up. What sticks out is how all of these incidents happen in the US. These rarely happen in other countries and jurisdictions. It is not just about discrimination. There are also many other situations that do not happen elsewhere (e.g. taking advantage of service animal policies). Perhaps it is also about an industry structure and responsibility issue too. Further, I wonder why many of these types of victims take further action. Is it really because something that bad happened or is it because they can get a considerable sum...

  10. ray pierce Guest

    So if the men had been white, there would be no story?

    1. Mason Guest

      You know that the answer is no, unfortunately.

    2. Ken Guest

      In that case, the flight attendant wouldn't think the guy smells. That is the problem here and I guess you don't see that.

    3. BookLvr Diamond

      If every single white man had been removed from a flight, yes, I think there would be a story.

      But that never happens to white men, does it? There isn't that same kind of dynamic of "One person in this race and gender category is a problem--at least according to one flight attendant--so we should deplane this entire category of person."

  11. Kaneesha Johnson Washington Guest

    What goes around comes around? DFW airport emplyees at AA and AA Lounges are one of the worst. They scream at you , yell at you, Treat you like Dirt but that is the culture there. can we sue also?

  12. SAN Greg Guest

    "A core tenet of which is caring". I call BS. Words are cheap and actions speak louder. I reference a flight 3 weeks ago PHX-MSN that was delayed by 18 hours due to mostly unknown delays (no weather or ATC issues), with the last issue being FAs "timing out" after we sat on the plane for an hour. Being that our trip was only 2 days we decided to cut our losses and return to...

    "A core tenet of which is caring". I call BS. Words are cheap and actions speak louder. I reference a flight 3 weeks ago PHX-MSN that was delayed by 18 hours due to mostly unknown delays (no weather or ATC issues), with the last issue being FAs "timing out" after we sat on the plane for an hour. Being that our trip was only 2 days we decided to cut our losses and return to our departure airport - San Diego. But we had to pay for our way back "since we were on a one-way ticket." We exhausted all avenues of remedy with AA customer service to resolve and just told to pound sand. Strange way to show you understand and care.

  13. Dave Guest

    Wow. Do you suppose the FA said over the PA "would all black passengers please ring your flight attendant call button?"

    You gotta wonder who called the shots on this and what in the hell they were thinking.

  14. FLLFLYER Guest

    How would these F/As handle a flight from Delhi? Indian pax often smell strong of Indian food.

    1. Oh my God they stink Guest

      It is NOT the smell of Indian Food, It is the smell from Digested Food in their Body and outside. they have no problem Belching,etc

  15. Volleyball New Member

    -The real smoking gun and the single word that probably forced the CEO to take action was the gate agent answering with "correct" to the question of the color of their skin...How would she even know the reason, the FA(s) openly communicated to the gate agent that they kicked off passengers due to the color of their skin? Had the gate agent said "You were all being disruptive" this wouldn't be a story. The gate...

    -The real smoking gun and the single word that probably forced the CEO to take action was the gate agent answering with "correct" to the question of the color of their skin...How would she even know the reason, the FA(s) openly communicated to the gate agent that they kicked off passengers due to the color of their skin? Had the gate agent said "You were all being disruptive" this wouldn't be a story. The gate agent attempted to rebook all new flights but there weren't any so how could the gate agent "override" the FA(s) by getting them back on the aircraft? Lastly, was this even the first time with the FA(s) kicking off specific races?

    1. Ken Guest

      Sadly, if the gate agent didn't spill the word, I am sure aa and its staff would have simply denied it

  16. DenB Diamond

    The original cause of this incident was the belief that confronting a passenger about his odour directly was too difficult. Or embarrassing. Or, Heaven forbid, rude! So the geniuses decided they needed the next-best thing. Sometimes there actually isn't a next-best thing, there's the Right Thing, and there's everything else. The black men who didn't smell that day had exactly the same right to respect as the white passengers who didn't smell that day. The...

    The original cause of this incident was the belief that confronting a passenger about his odour directly was too difficult. Or embarrassing. Or, Heaven forbid, rude! So the geniuses decided they needed the next-best thing. Sometimes there actually isn't a next-best thing, there's the Right Thing, and there's everything else. The black men who didn't smell that day had exactly the same right to respect as the white passengers who didn't smell that day. The one who brought offensive odour into a sealed tube had to be dealt with compassionately and with respect, too. It's almost impossible to understand how anyone didn't understand the really simple principles at play in this scenario. I like Ben's speculation about their convo. Your Flight Attendant is here primarily for your safety, and also to be alarmingly, embarrassingly stupid.

    1. DenB Diamond

      All dogs have 4 legs. My cat has 4 legs.

      Therefore, my cat...

    2. LK Guest

      so if they don't bring up the real issue, why would it be different when BO person boarded the replacement flight (if they had found one).

  17. E Smith Guest

    What he should have done was offer them conciergekey status for a year to make up for it.

  18. NedsKid Diamond

    "We're going to form an interdepartmental committee. Plenty of fruitful meetings, action items, discussion points, drafting of proposals, redrafts of the drafts, internal presentations, lots of time consumed. Results? No, by the time we reach that point we will have been diverted to another topic."

    1. Stan Ferris Guest

      What a bunch of Corp BS, what happened to the "Golden Rule", for some reason the businesses that operate with that guideline don't experience these problems.

  19. Lasdiner Guest

    I don’t know about racism
    I know that on a recent flight to Tokyo on American the person sitting in middle of the business class seat had an unbearable BO
    As I -and also the FA passing for service- would actually feel the stimulus of vomiting upon breathing deep, the resolve was to ask him to go to the bathroom to freshen up and he was given the standard pijama. He grumbled a...

    I don’t know about racism
    I know that on a recent flight to Tokyo on American the person sitting in middle of the business class seat had an unbearable BO
    As I -and also the FA passing for service- would actually feel the stimulus of vomiting upon breathing deep, the resolve was to ask him to go to the bathroom to freshen up and he was given the standard pijama. He grumbled a bit but then followed orders and we were smell free until he changed back into his clothes shortly before arrival.
    As he did so I was allowed into the empty seat previously reserved for
    The pilot to spare me the odor. Other were less fortunate
    I am Sure the situation here was different, but in case several men decided to board a plane without the proper hygiene that should be common sense when sharing a space with strangers -and evidently sometimes isn’t- race should not be a factor
    No matter who they are and where they are from their odor is an issue for the others - not an easy one to stomach and that they should Not be requested to stomach. Employees are trained for this I have been told
    Hope this Lawsuit does not deter FAs from doing the great job they did on my occasion

    1. Ole Guest

      Seems you missed the whole point. Issue is not that the FAs tried to remove ONE black passenger for his BO. The issue is, the FAs removed EIGHT (all black passengers on the flight) black passengers because ONE of them had BO. Also, NONE of the eight knew each other, they were all strangers. If it quacks like a duck, and walks likes a duck…

      Corporations like to blame such incidents on break down of...

      Seems you missed the whole point. Issue is not that the FAs tried to remove ONE black passenger for his BO. The issue is, the FAs removed EIGHT (all black passengers on the flight) black passengers because ONE of them had BO. Also, NONE of the eight knew each other, they were all strangers. If it quacks like a duck, and walks likes a duck…

      Corporations like to blame such incidents on break down of procedures, but the fact is almost always such incidents happen because of the culture. I am certain there is procedure addressing such situation, but the culture of AA that made all FAs, captains, and gate agent to think this was the appropriate way to handle the situation.

    2. Mason Guest

      @Ole

      The best explanation. Straight to the point without any unneccessary biased political message.

    3. Icarus Guest

      Allegedly. You don’t know. I smell something fishy here.

  20. Never In Doubt Guest

    At work in the fields of the engagement farmers.

  21. Eve Guest

    I remember in the original post a bunch of borderline racist commenters were chanting about the “other side of the story” and pretty much supporting this despicable event. I wonder what there reactions are now that the AA CEO has himself apologized to the pax and public regarding the incident and also admitted to their structural failures in this regard

    1. TravelinWilly Diamond

      They'll double down, of course. That's how racist RWNJs roll.

    2. Mason Guest

      I also remember you ignoring me saying that it's racist and distoring my message, as well as bringing something that has nothing to do with the argument at all. I wonder what makes you this hypocritical

      There's a saying that a dumb person with a strong belief is very dangerous, and you, in addition to the "real" racists who group punished all the blacks on that flight and who supported it, really prove that it's true.

    3. Watson Diamond

      > "And that's exactly why Israeli deserves to be killed by Hamas" - Mason, https://onemileatatime.com/news/redeem-virgin-atlantic-flying-club-points-el-al/

      So yes, I fully agree that "a dumb person with a strong belief is very dangerous".

    4. Mason Guest

      @Watson

      You're getting personal. Again, it's not my fault that you don't like the truths, so...

    5. Mason Guest

      @Watson

      Israel's been bragging about their democracy. Sure, they're a very democratic nation. But there are the responsibilities of democracy as well. If they voted a party who pushed Palestine to the extreme and resulted the war, then the one pushed them to the extreme goes takes at least a partial responsibility. And if even it isn't, you can't deny the fact that Israeli govt. established and funded Hamas. It's the truth that you and...

      @Watson

      Israel's been bragging about their democracy. Sure, they're a very democratic nation. But there are the responsibilities of democracy as well. If they voted a party who pushed Palestine to the extreme and resulted the war, then the one pushed them to the extreme goes takes at least a partial responsibility. And if even it isn't, you can't deny the fact that Israeli govt. established and funded Hamas. It's the truth that you and the Zionnists want to hide, but too bad that people around the globe at least aren't as dumb as you.

      I'll take your agreement as a reflect of your actions. Maybe you should try a different method ad hominem (Jen, don't worry, I know the meaning of this more than you do) if you don't want to make you look bad instead.

    6. Eve Guest

      That Mason is why I did not reply to you. You make fair arguments but just like Tim Dunn, you devalue that argument with something silly

    7. Watson Diamond

      @Eve: Tim Dunn is fun to tease/goad because he always doubles down on his Delta fanboyism in any circumstance, but I doubt anyone harbors any real animus toward him.

      Mason, on the other hand, thinks some of my friends deserve to die just for being Israeli, so I genuinely think he's a bad person. I've given up reporting his violent or anti-semitic comments because it doesn't seem to do anything.

    8. Watson Diamond

      I'm directly quoting you saying an entire country of people deserve to die and you think that's ad hominem that makes me look bad???

    9. Mason Guest

      I know it's quite extreme to say such thing, but you've gotta know it's not exactly limited to Israelis and current situation. They're bragging about their democracy constantly, which means they also should accept the responsibilty of their "democratic" policies which includes the loss and fatalities from this war. Hamas, on the other hand, is ruling on a dictatorship basis, and the Gazans weren't happy with their governance for various reasons. And they started war...

      I know it's quite extreme to say such thing, but you've gotta know it's not exactly limited to Israelis and current situation. They're bragging about their democracy constantly, which means they also should accept the responsibilty of their "democratic" policies which includes the loss and fatalities from this war. Hamas, on the other hand, is ruling on a dictatorship basis, and the Gazans weren't happy with their governance for various reasons. And they started war to regain support in and from outside Gaza, which is very different from the situation of Israel so I wouldn't say the same thing to them, although starting the war is still something to be condemned.

      Long story short, unfortunately, unlike your accusation and attempt to make look bad (again), I'm not saying that Israelis should die because of who they are, but because of what they CHOSE on their OWN WILL which also comes with the RESPONSIBILITIES.

      You look so desparate to deny me. Even if I get banned from here or whatsoever, I absolutely won't care about that. It's not my job to either readucate some mentally disturbed people or to tell what's right to those who decided to consolidate their retarded thoughts.

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Ole Guest

Seems you missed the whole point. Issue is not that the FAs tried to remove ONE black passenger for his BO. The issue is, the FAs removed EIGHT (all black passengers on the flight) black passengers because ONE of them had BO. Also, NONE of the eight knew each other, they were all strangers. If it quacks like a duck, and walks likes a duck… Corporations like to blame such incidents on break down of procedures, but the fact is almost always such incidents happen because of the culture. I am certain there is procedure addressing such situation, but the culture of AA that made all FAs, captains, and gate agent to think this was the appropriate way to handle the situation.

5
NedsKid Diamond

"We're going to form an interdepartmental committee. Plenty of fruitful meetings, action items, discussion points, drafting of proposals, redrafts of the drafts, internal presentations, lots of time consumed. Results? No, by the time we reach that point we will have been diverted to another topic."

5
Eve Guest

I remember in the original post a bunch of borderline racist commenters were chanting about the “other side of the story” and pretty much supporting this despicable event. I wonder what there reactions are now that the AA CEO has himself apologized to the pax and public regarding the incident and also admitted to their structural failures in this regard

3
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