October 25, 2017; Washington Post
Taking a page from the State Department playbook, for the second time this year, the venerable civil rights organization, the NAACP, has issued or supported a national travel advisory.
The organization’s most recent action comes directly from the national office and was announced this Tuesday. The official Travel Advisory strongly cautions African Americans and all travelers to reconsider travel with American Airlines. American Airlines passengers have filed 29 complaints of racial discrimination in the last 20 months, the most of any airline flying in the US, according to data compiled by the US Department of Transportation. According to the organization, their decision was made, based on “several months…of monitoring a pattern of disturbing incidents reported by African-American passengers, specific to American Airlines.” Potential passengers and passengers are warned to “exercise caution in booking and boarding planes.”
The organization believes that African American travelers must use diligence based on four specific incidents reported to the organization covering boarding problems, staff and passenger interactions, and a general “corporate culture of racial insensitivity.” In an effort to collect additional data on all airlines, African Americans are directed to the organization’s website, where they now can share their experiences of American Airlines and other airline travel.
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American Airlines’ president, as a leader in an industry under increased scrutiny of late, responded Wednesday morning that the airline was “disappointed” with the NAACP’s stance, but willing to meet with representatives to address their concerns. Peculiarly, he also encouraged staff to “continue the noble work they do.”
The NAACP’s first travel advisory was an unprecedented warning for African Americans considering travel to and within the state of Missouri. The advisory, presented by the Missouri chapter and later endorsed and supported by the national board, was in response to multiple developments in the state. The local NAACP chapter cited overzealous policing and education discrimination; however, it was more specifically moved to action by recent state legislation making it more difficult for African Americans to file discrimination suits. Senate Bill 43’s language would require those filing suit to prove that racial discrimination was the only possible rationale for the perceived infraction. The state’s history hasn’t helped matters. Home to the Dred Scott decision and the infamous Missouri Compromise, the state was also one of the last states to ditch slavery. The state’s more recent history is problematic, too, with the Michael Brown shooting and its aftermath. CNN reported that the head of the NAACP Missouri Conference advised African American travelers to “bring bail money.”
Observers have noted that issuance of the travel advisory may reflect a new direction and the thinking of the organization’s new leadership. The new travel advisory comes a few days after the organization installed Derrick Johnson as the president and CEO. Moreover, it is changing its 501c status in a move to position itself for more aggressive lobbying to be more responsive to their constituency. According to the NAACP, the travel ban will “stay in effect until further notice.”—Mary Frances Mitchner