American Airlines CEO speaks out after Black passengers kicked off flight

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American Airlines CEO Robert Isom is speaking out after a discrimination lawsuit alleged that eight Black passengers were kicked off a flight over a complaint about body odor.

In a letter sent on Tuesday (June 18), Isom called the January incident “unacceptable,” per CBS News.

“I am incredibly disappointed by what happened on that flight and the breakdown of our procedures,” the CEO wrote. “We fell short of our commitments and failed our customers in this incident.”

The letter came after a lawsuit was filed in May on behalf of three of the Black passengers — Alvin Jackson, Emmanuel Jean Joseph, and Xavier Veal — accused American Airlines of “blatant and egregious racial discrimination.”

The lawsuit states the eight passengers were kicked off their January 5 flight from Phoenix, Arizona to New York “without any valid reason, and solely based on their race.”

“Representatives of American told them that they were removed from the flight because of a complaint about a Black male passenger who allegedly had offensive body odor,” the suit states.

The eight men weren’t seated together and didn’t know each other.

According to the lawsuit, the men didn’t have any offensive body odor, and “at no time did anyone ever specifically accuse any of them of having offensive body odor.”

“When Plaintiffs pointed out that they were being treated unfairly due to the color of their skin, at least one of the American staff members said she did ‘not disagree,'” the suit reads.

According to the lawsuit, the eight men were initially told they would have to be rebooked on a different flight. However, “only after determining that there were no available American flights” that day, the airline “reversed course” and told them they could reboard their initial flight.

In Tuesday’s letter, Isom said the company would “focus on improving the travel experience for Black customers.” The CEO also thanked NAACP President Derrick Johnson for expressing concern over the incident.

“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 experience with American,” Isom wrote.

Johnson said in a statement: “The NAACP is pleased to see American Airlines has taken initial steps to forge a path toward a more inclusive experience for all. While it is unfortunately common for Black consumers to experience racism and discrimination at the hands of corporations, it is not common to see such swift, and decisive action. It is our hope that this approach will serve as a model for other corporations who may find themselves in similar situations.”

According to reports, the employees involved in the January incident have been put on leave amid an investigation.

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