DALLAS (CBS11) – From controversy to conversation.
Fort Worth-based American Airlines is promising to meet with the NAACP after the civil rights organization issued a travel warning to African-American customers.
“The NAACP for several months now has been monitoring a pattern of disturbing incidents reported by African-American passengers, specific to American Airlines,” read the statement, which went on to urge those customers to “exercise caution, in that booking and boarding flights on American Airlines could subject them [to] disrespectful, discriminatory or unsafe conditions.”
One of the cases cited in the warning involved an African American woman who was kicked off of a flight after questioning why her seat was reassigned without explanation or apology. The passenger went online to share her bad experience saying, “The woman disrespected me like I was nothing!” And then she also took her complaint to the NAACP.
In another incident cited, an African American woman who had booked first class tickets for herself and a traveling companion, “was switched to the coach section at the ticket counter, while her white companion remained assigned to a first-class seat.”
The civil rights group is also now encouraging passengers to go online to report similar incidents, prompting some local experts to wonder if the discontent will multiply.
“It’s mind boggling how instant it can be,” says local leadership consultant Vince Poscente. “And all of a sudden, that anecdotal piece of evidence becomes a universal truth and then all heck breaks loose!”
Poscente says he has advised other airlines on customer services issues and says the wise don’t just react– they build a culture before the controversy hits.
“If I’m running a company and I want customer service to be as good as it can possible be and know at the same time that there’s a climate of racism that’s bubbling up and getting attention, that I would have to pay particular attention to that sensitivity: that’s not news,” says Poscente, “but, man it has to be a priority. It has to be a priority.”
American Airlines CEO Doug Parker in a message to employees Wednesday praised what they do well in bringing people together, and also acknowledged that the company must now do the same on the touchy issue of race.
In that message Parker expressed disappointment at the NAACP travel warning and wrote, “We do not and will not tolerate discrimination of any kind. We have reached out to the NAACP and are eager to meet with them to listen to their issues and concerns.”
As for Pocente, who says he has travelled millions of miles on American Airlines flights, he’s hoping this forced focus on race will bring some positive change.
“I hope the lasting effect is more of a conversation and more proactivity. Not just being sensitive,” says Pocente, “but, hypersensitive… to really pay attention to everybody they serve.”