American Airlines sued by three Black men who were ‘forced off plane because of body odor’

American Airlines sued by three Black men who were ‘forced off plane because of body odor’

Three Black men are suing American Airlines claiming they were kicked off a New York-bound flight after a white flight attendant complained of body odor.

The lawsuit was filed in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York on Wednesday.

The men, identified in the suit as Alvin Jackson, Emmanuel Jean Joseph and Xavier Veal, claim the airline engaged in “blatant and egregious race discrimination” when they and five other Black male passengers were kicked off their flight from Phoenix, Arizona without a valid reason shortly before takeoff on 5 January 2024.

The complainants say that a representative for the airline approached them and ordered the men off the plane. As the men moved to get off, they noticed other Black male passengers were being removed from the aircraft, in what they thought to be an effort to remove all Black male passengers from the plane.

The complaint states that the men were not seated together.

Three Black men are suing American Airlines alleging that they were forced off a January flight by a white flight attendant (Getty Images)
Three Black men are suing American Airlines alleging that they were forced off a January flight by a white flight attendant (Getty Images)

Back at the gate, the men demanded an explanation and were told that the flight attendant had complained about body odor. None of the passengers were told that they personally had “offensive body odor,” the court documents state.

The plaintiffs stated that it appeared that they had been kicked off the flight because of their race and said that the white flight attendant had treated them differently.

At least one representative echoed their remarks and replied “I agree. I agree,” the complaint states.

The men were then told they would be booked on another flight. Airline representatives worked to handle the situation for about an hour, causing a significant delay to the flight.

During that time, the pilot had alerted travelers that the delay was caused by a concern about body odor.

Only when it became apparent that there were no other available American flights that evening, they were allowed back on the plane.

“Plaintiffs then had to reboard the plane and endure the stares of the largely white passengers who viewed them as the cause of the substantial delay,” the complaint states. “They suffered during the entire flight home, and the entire incident was traumatic, upsetting, scary, humiliating and degrading.”

The white flight attendant served Mr Jackson and Mr Veal during the flight. The men said he continued to act in a rude and discriminatory manner toward them.

In a statement responding to the accusations, a spokesperson for American Airlines said: “We take all claims of discrimination very seriously and want our customers to have a positive experience when they choose to fly with us. Our teams are currently investigating the matter, and the claims do not reflect our core values or our purpose of caring for people.”

The claimants are seeking a jury trial in the civil matter to determine damages that would compensate them for “the discrimination they experienced, including damages for fear, humiliation, embarrassment, mental pain, suffering and inconvenience.”

The men are also seeking an award for damages that would “punish” American Airlines for its “malicious, willful, wanton, callous and reckless conduct and effectively deter defendant from engaging in similar conduct in the future.”

This isn’t the first time the airline has faced accusations of racism. The NAACP issued a travel advisory warning its members against flying with the airline, claiming they might be exposed to discriminatory, disrespectful or unsafe conditions. The advisory stated that the airline had a pattern that could not be dismissed as normal or random.

Last month, NPR and other outlets reported that a Black retired judge from Chicago had filed a complaint with American Airlines saying she was blocked from using a first-class bathroom on a flight even though she had a first-class ticket.

In separate incidents last year, track and field star Sha’Carri Richardson and musician David Ryan Harris, who are Black, said on social media that they were falsely accused of wrongdoing by American flight attendants.

Richardson said she was removed from a plane for allegedly harassing an attendant, and Harris said he was suspected of child trafficking while traveling with his biracial children. The airline apologized to Mr Harris and said Ms Richardson was booked on a different flight.

After landing at JFK airport close to midnight, Mr Jackson asked to speak with someone about the incident. The flight attendants ushered him off the plane and told him he could speak to a representative at the terminal.

But when he disembarked, there was no one there to assist him.

With additional reporting from the AP.