American Airlines CEO Apologizes After Company Accused of Racial Discrimination 

The CEO of a major airline has apologized after the company he leads was accused of racial discrimination.

On Tuesday, Robert Isom, the CEO of American Airlines, pledged that he would “rebuild trust” in the company after some Black passengers claimed they were the target of racial discrimination when the airline forced them to deboard from a flight because someone complained about their body odor.

In a letter that Isom sent to employees, he wrote it was important to “address an unacceptable incident” where eight Black passengers were temporarily removed from a flight and then allowed to re-board.

He wrote:

“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 failed our customers in this incident.”

Three of the passengers who were removed from the January 5 flight that was headed to New York City from Phoenix have sued American Airlines over the incident.

The three men, who were seated together but didn’t know each other, said a representative of the airline approached them each individually, ordering them to leave the plane without giving them an explanation as to why.

In total, eight Black male passengers were ultimately removed from the flight. There were video recordings of the incident, which show that the men were demanding to know why they were being removed.

Several of them accused the staff members of discrimination, with at least one representative of the airline saying “I agree” in response.

Eventually, a representative of the airline told the men that they were being removed because a male flight attendant, who is white, complained about the body odor of an unidentified passenger.

The complaint points out that none of the men were accused of smelling bad when they were removed, or any time before or after.

At one point, the passengers were told they wouldn’t be allowed to go back on the plane and would have to be re-booked onto another flight. American later said that there weren’t any other flights that night to put them on.

There was a delay of about an hour because of the ordeal, and the airline ultimately allowed all eight passengers to get back on the flight.

Media outlet The Hill obtained the letter that Isom sent to employees this week. In it, he laid out many steps that the company will take to “strengthen diversity and inclusion.”

Some examples he detailed include creating an advisory group, re-evaluating the company’s policies, improving education on the topics and strengthening oversight. 

He wrote:

“Be assured that we are steadfast in our commitment to working with the NAACP and other civil rights organizations to learn from this incident, listen to and rebuild trust with you, our team members, and our Black customers, and to delivering the best possible experiences with American.”