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American Airlines CEO vows to 'rebuild trust' after Black men were removed from flight due to odor complaint

American Airlines CEO Robert Isom vowed Tuesday to “rebuild trust” within the company after a group of black passengers accused the airline of racism after they were forced off a flight over a complaint of body odor.

In a letter to employees on Tuesday, Isom said it was important to “address the unacceptable incident” in which eight black passengers were briefly removed from a flight and then allowed back on.

“I am extremely disappointed by what happened on this flight and the breakdown in our procedures,” Isom wrote. “It goes against our values, who we stand for, who we are and our purpose of helping people on their life’s journey. We failed to deliver on our promises in this incident and let our customers down.”

Three of the black passengers who were removed from the plane filed a lawsuit against American Airlines last month in connection with the January 5 flight from Phoenix to New York.

The three men, who did not know each other but were seated together, said they were approached one by one by American Airlines representatives and told to leave the plane without any explanation.

A total of eight black male passengers were removed from the plane, and video recording of the incident shows the men demanding to know why they were being removed, with several of them accusing staff of discrimination and at least one airline representative heard replying, “I agree.”

When asked why the passengers were removed, an airline representative said a white male flight attendant had complained about the unidentified passenger’s body odor.

According to the lawsuit, the men were never accused of having an unpleasant body odor.

Passengers were then informed they would not be allowed to reboard and would have to rebook, but American Airlines later said there were no other flights available for them to rebook on that night.

After an hour-long delay, the airline eventually changed its decision and allowed all eight passengers on board.

Isom’s letter, obtained by The Hill, outlined a series of steps the company would take to “strengthen diversity and inclusion,” including creating an advisory group, increasing oversight, reevaluating policies and training.

“We are committed to working with the NAACP and other civil rights organizations to learn from this incident, listen to you, and rebuild trust with you.
“We are committed to ensuring our members and Black customers have the best experience flying American Airlines,” he wrote.

In response to the lawsuit, the NAACP threatened to reinstate the American Airlines travel ban earlier this month.

In 2017, civil rights groupsTravel advisories issued to airlinesIt warned African-American passengers to “be careful” after multiple reports of discrimination.

American Airlines responded by forming a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) panel, and the NAACP lifted its ban in July 2018. But the panel was subsequently disbanded amid the growing politicization of DEI programs.

Isom said he has discussed the incident and the organization’s concerns with NAACP President and CEO Derrick Johnson.

“The NAACP is pleased that American Airlines has taken this first step to pave the way for a more inclusive experience for all,” Johnson said in a statement released by American Airlines.

“Unfortunately, it is common for Black consumers to experience racism and discrimination from companies, but it is rare to see such swift and decisive action,” he added.