American Airlines is under fire again after an incident that is sure to leave some brows furrowed: alleged blanket theft. On Wednesday, the airline issued an apology after two black men were kicked off of a Christmas Eve flight from Dallas for allegedly stealing blankets from first class.
This is not the first time that American Airlines has come under fire for racist conduct from staff. In October, the NAACP issued a travel advisory for African-American passengers warning those booking flights to avoid American Airlines.
The organization cited four incidents in which black passengers were forced to give up their seats or were removed from American Airlines flights without solid reasoning. At the time, the NAACP warned that the pattern “suggests a corporate culture of racial insensitivity and possible racial bias.”
American Airlines issued this statement in response:
“We fly over borders, walls, and stereotypes to connect people from different races, religions, nationalities, economic backgrounds, and sexual orientation. We do not and will not tolerate discrimination of any kind.” – American Airlines CEO Doug Parker
Fast forward two months: two professional basketball players, Marquis Teague and Trahson Burrell boarded a flight bound for Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Both men play for the Memphis Hustle, an NBA G-League team.
Teague and Burrell were handed blankets by two first-class passengers as they made their way down the aisle to their seats in coach. The Hustle assistant coach Darnell Lazare tweeted on Sunday that the flight attendant saw two “young black athletes” with blankets from first class and immediately asked if the men had stolen them.
The two players were removed from the flight after an argument ensued. Sounds excessive, right? That’s because it is. And to say that the incident is not racially motivated would be a stretch: how many white people have ever been kicked off of a flight after being gifted a blanket by another passenger?
The men were removed because they spoke up for themselves after being wrongly profiled by a flight attendant.
“It’s 2017 and a flight attendant sees two young black athletes with blankets from first class. His first comments is ‘did you steal them.’ How about you teach people the facts first before jumping to conclusions. #beingblackinamerican.”
The Hustle’s head coach Glynn Cyprien said this:
“American Airlines needs sensitivity training [for] attendants on flights dealing with humans and blankets.”
Even if the two men had taken the blankets back from first class without permission, would they have deserved to be removed from a flight? The incident corroborates the NAACP’s warning.
A spokesman for the airline issued yet another statement and noted that the airline would be reaching out to the players:
“We apologize for what occurred on this flight. We take pride in bringing people together, and we know that on this flight we let some of our customers down.”
American Airlines announced last month that it would begin implicit-bias training for its 120,000 employees in response to the NAACP’s travel advisory. The organization is not ready to drop the travel advisory, and necessarily so. This is 2017, and no person of color should be treated as a second-class citizen.
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