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Flying the (Not So) Friendly Skies

Did you miss this one?

In late October, the NAACP issued a warning to African Americans to avoid traveling on American Airlines. According to an NAACP press release:

"The NAACP for several months now has been monitoring a pattern of disturbing incidents reported by African-American passengers, specific to American Airlines. In light of these confrontations, we have today taken the action of issuing [a] national advisory alerting travelers—especially African Americans—to exercise caution, in that booking and boarding flights on American Airlines could subject them [to] disrespectful, discriminatory or unsafe conditions. This travel advisory is in effect beginning today, October 24, 2017, until further notice."

The release also lists four specific incidents pointing to what it suggests is, “a corporate culture of racial insensitivity and possible racial bias on the part of American Airlines.”

Shocking. But, apparently true. In fact, to its credit, American Airlines was quick to respond to the statement by the NAACP. American Airlines CEO Doug Parker addressed the issue on a quarterly earnings call, saying: "Discrimination, exclusion and unconscious biases are enormous problems that no one's mastered and we would never suggest that we have it all figured out," he said. Parker went on to say that he welcomes the opportunity to work with the NAACP to improve the experience of African Americans on American Airlines flights.

Let’s hope they can do better. It’s not, of course, simply “the right” thing to do. Inclusion is a business imperative; and this certainly illustrates the truth behind our mantra. Does an airline like American Airlines really want to mistreat a significant portion of its travelers?

This situation certainly creates a PR nightmare for American Airlines. It also creates an opportunity. An opportunity to do better. It’s difficult to predict how many people will heed the call to avoid the airline, but even a marginal decrease in spend by an entire racial group could potentially result in a serious dip in revenue.

African Americans represent significant potential revenue opportunity for the U.S. economy, which some projections indicating that this group’s buying power could reach $1.5 trillion in 2021. In the immediate aftermath of the NAACP statement, American Airlines did not report any drop in bookings, but shares did fall by 4.7 percent at least initially, according to CNBC.

Yes, inclusion is a business imperative. Be inclusive!

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