Black men sue American Airlines for racial discrimination

Three black men have filed a racial discrimination lawsuit against American Airlines, alleging that the carrier briefly removed them from a flight after a complaint about body odour.

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

"American Airlines singled us out for being Black, embarrassed us, and humiliated us," the men said in a joint statement on Wednesday.

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

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

Alvin Jackson, Emmanuel Jean Joseph, and Xavier Veal allege that, as they were leaving, they realised that "every Black man on the flight was being removed".

Each of the men had flown from Los Angeles earlier that day, with no issue.

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 an unidentified passenger's body odour".

"There is no explanation other than the color of our skin," the men said in a statement on Wednesday, adding: "Clearly this was racial discrimination."

American Airlines employees tried to re-book the men on other flights, but there were no other services to New York that night. The group was at that point allowed to re-take their seats on their original flight.

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 that there was a delay due to an issue with "body odour". The plaintiffs say the claim about odour was false.

"Throughout the flight - from the moment of their reboarding, in each interaction with the white male flight attendant, and continuing until landing - Plaintiffs experienced profound feelings of embarrassment, humiliation, anxiety, anger, and distress," the lawsuit states.

"The act of returning to their seats after the unwarranted delay, navigating past the predominantly white passengers, several of whom eyed them with anger and undue suspicion, compounded their humiliation."

The lawsuit says that the airline should be forced to pay unspecified damages for the "trauma" the men endured.

One of the men suing, Mr Joseph, told the BBC that the “alienating” experience reminded him of Civil Rights hero Rosa Parks being forced to move to the back of an Alabama bus in 1955 due to state-sanctioned racial discrimination.

“It's a strange, crazy story that in 2024 we are still going through stuff like this,” said Mr Joseph.

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

In 2017, the NAACP, a civil rights group, issued a travel advisory telling black Americans to avoid American Airlines due to discrimination.

They lifted the advisory the following year after the carrier announced it had made changes to its operations.