June 21, 2024

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A lawsuit has been filed against American Airlines by Black men alleging racial discrimination.

Three African American men have lodged a racial discrimination lawsuit against American Airlines, alleging that they were temporarily removed from a flight following a complaint about body odor. The men, who were not seated together and were strangers to one another, claim that every Black male passenger was asked to leave the flight from Phoenix, Arizona, to New York on January 5th. In a joint statement, the men expressed feeling singled out, embarrassed, and humiliated by the airline’s actions. American Airlines, based in Texas, stated it was investigating the incident, emphasizing that such actions do not align with its values.

According to a federal lawsuit filed by the consumer advocacy group Public Citizen, the men were already seated and ready for departure when a flight attendant individually approached each of them and requested they leave the plane. Alvin Jackson, Emmanuel Jean Joseph, and Xavier Veal allege that upon exiting, they noticed that every Black male passenger was being removed. The men had previously flown from Los Angeles that day without incident. At the gate, they were informed by an airline agent that they were being removed due to a complaint from a white male flight attendant about an unidentified passenger’s body odor. The men believe racial discrimination was the only explanation for their removal.

Efforts by American Airlines employees to rebook the men on alternative flights were unsuccessful, as there were no available flights to New York that evening. Eventually, the men were allowed to reoccupy their original seats on the same flight. American Airlines reiterated its commitment to investigating the incident, emphasizing its dedication to providing a positive customer experience.

During the ordeal, the lawsuit alleges that the pilot announced to passengers that there was a delay due to a “body odor” issue, a claim the plaintiffs dispute. The men recount experiencing profound feelings of embarrassment, humiliation, anxiety, anger, and distress throughout the flight, exacerbated by interactions with the flight attendant and fellow passengers.

The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages for the trauma endured by the men. Emmanuel Jean Joseph likened the experience to the racial segregation endured by Civil Rights icon Rosa Parks in 1955, stressing the ongoing prevalence of such issues in 2024. He emphasized the importance of holding American Airlines accountable to prevent future occurrences. In 2017, the NAACP issued a travel advisory cautioning black travelers against American Airlines due to discrimination, though it was lifted the following year after the carrier announced operational changes.