American Airlines CEO aims to ‘rebuild trust’ after Black passengers removed from flight

FILE - American Airlines aircrafts seen at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. (Alex Tai/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

After a recent incident when American Airline employees kicked several Black passengers off a flight in Phoenix, allegedly due to a complaint about body odor, the airline’s CEO said he is taking immediate action to "rebuild trust" within the company. 

American CEO Robert Isom wrote in a note to staff that the incident was unacceptable. 

"I am incredibly disappointed by what happened on that flight and the breakdown of our procedures," Isom said in the note this week. "It contradicts our values. … We fell short of our commitments and failed our customers in this incident."

FILE - Robert Isom, CEO of American Airlines, speaks at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Global Aerospace Summit on Sept. 12, 2023 in Washington, DC.  (Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)

3 Black passengers sue American Airlines

Black passengers who were briefly ordered off an American Airlines plane in January sued the airline in late May, alleging that they were victims of racial discrimination. 

Three of the men filed a lawsuit in federal court in New York. They said they were told to leave a plane waiting to take off in Phoenix and noticed five other black men who also had been ordered off the flight. 

The three, who did not know each other and had been sitting in different parts of the plane, said an airline employee told them they were removed because a flight attendant had complained about a passenger’s body odor. 

The men said they demanded an explanation for their removal during a confrontation with airline personnel in the jet bridge. At least one of the men recorded the discussion, capturing an airline employee seeming to agree that the men were discriminated against, according to their lawsuit. 

After a delay of about an hour, they were allowed back on the plane.

How American responded

American did not say how many employees were put on leave following the incident, or describe their job titles. A spokesperson for the airline said, "We are holding those involved accountable, including removing team members from service." 

Isom said American would form an advisory group to focus on the experience of Black customers, to promote the reporting of discrimination allegations, and to improve diversity training to "focus on real-world situations to help recognize and address bias and discrimination." 

In his note, which was reported earlier by CBS News, Isom said he had spoken with the president of the NAACP about the incident. The civil rights group did not immediately respond to a request for comment by The Associated Press on Thursday. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report. This story was reported from Los Angeles.