American Airlines is facing accusations of racial discrimination after removing two Black celebrities from flights during the last week and being sued in federal court by a Black passenger for also being kicked off a flight.
Dallas track star Sha’Carri Richardson said she was forced to leave an American Airlines flight Saturday after a confrontation with a flight attendant who confronted her while she was making a video during pre-flight announcements, according to videos the hopeful Olympian posted to Instagram.
That came after New York rapper Talib Kweli said he was threatened with arrest and removed from an American Airlines flight last week following a dispute with a flight attendant over the size of his personal bag and carry-on luggage.
Fort Worth, Texas-based American Airlines was also sued in U.S. District Court in North Florida on Friday by a Black man who said he was kicked off a flight in “an act of blatant racial discrimination” following a dispute with a flight attendant.
“@americanair is racist. Period,” Talib Kweli said on his verified Instagram page where he shared the Richardson incident. “If this is how they are treated Black folks with fame privilege imagine how they are treating Black folks without large platforms!”
American Airlines has faced issues with its treatment of Black flyers before. In 2017, the NAACP issued a travel advisory to Black passengers to avoid flying the airline after a series of complaints about interactions between the carrier and Black individuals. The NAACP dropped the travel advisory in 2018 and American Airlines has instituted implicit bias training and reviewed its complaint system to try to address racial discrimination.
American Airlines chief diversity officer Cedric Rockamore said a company of this size is going to get complaints, but the overall number of passenger complaints and discrimination complaints have decreased in recent years. Every American Airlines employee is required to undergo implicit bias and discrimination training, he said, including frontline workers.
“A lot of these things are born out of that balance where we’re trying ensure that we’re in compliance with all of the FAA rules and regulations, but at the same time create this experience where it doesn’t give the impression that there’s some perception that there’s unfairness or discriminatory practices on board the aircraft,” Rockamore said.
Kweli, whose surname is Greene, pointed to a recent incident in which NFL star wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. was removed from an American Airlines flight in late November after he appeared to drift in and out of consciousness during a flight out of Miami International Airport.
Richardson, who was slated to run the 100-meter sprint at the 2022 Tokyo Olympics before being disqualified for a positive marijuana drug test, appeared to be filming a video of herself during pre-flight announcements when a male American Airlines flight attendant appears to ask her to turn off her device.
“I’m recording me but you jumped in my video so I caught you because you jumped in my video,” Richardson said to the flight attendant in the video. “You’re harassing me at this point, so I think you should stop.”
Passengers are permitted to use devices during takeoff, but only if cellular data and calling is turned off.
The initial video ends after Richardson verbally spars with other passengers, including one man concerned he might miss his connecting flight. In a second video, Richardson calls the flight attendant “unprofessional” and asks why he isn’t being told to leave the plane as well. She also said she felt threatened by the flight attendant.
“It’s a video of my face and you’ll see it on social media,” Richardson said to other passengers on the flight, some of whom clapped when she was escorted off. “Because y’all have no idea who I am.”
Richardson was re-booked on a later flight, an American Airlines spokesperson said.
In Talib Kweli’s video, he’s discussing with a supervisor a dispute with another American Airlines crew member over the size of his personal bag. In one of his videos, the American Airlines employee says he must get off the plane because the crew “feels unsafe.” Talib Kweli insisted that he did not yell or raise his voice or break any laws or rules.
After police officers arrived, Talib Kweli was told he would not be arrested.
“I’m a Black man in America,” he said. “I’m like, I paid good money for this seat, why am I being told I’m going to jail?”
He was allegedly removed from the flight but not arrested.
In the lawsuit filed in Florida, Troskie Stewart said he was asked to leave a flight after being told several times by a flight attendant to sit down while trying to store his bag in an overhead bin and getting up to let in a woman sitting in the same row.
According to the lawsuit, the flight attendant got a supervisor to have Stewart removed from the airplane. Stewart, who is a Black man, said he was “confused, embarrassed, and humiliated to be removed from the aircraft.”
American placed him and the woman he was traveling with on the next flight to Atlanta, the lawsuit said.