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American Airlines CEO, Civil Rights Leaders Meet Over Bias Complaints

by Associated Press and Chandelis R. Duster /
NAACP President Derrick Johnson at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., on Aug. 29.Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images file

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DALLAS — American Airlines said its chief executive had a "positive" meeting Tuesday with civil rights leaders who accuse the airline of racial bias, but an activist who was kicked off a plane isn't backing away from her criticism of the carrier.

The airline said Chief Executive Doug Parker and a senior vice president met with NAACP President Derrick Johnson, Women's March organizer Tamika Mallory and others in Washington.

The NAACP had demanded the meeting when it warned African-Americans last week that they could face discriminatory treatment while traveling on American. Neither side would give details of the talks — they offered only the most general descriptions of what was said in the private session.

"We welcomed the opportunity to meet, and had a positive and productive dialogue," American spokeswoman Shannon Gilson said in a statement. "We look forward to continuing the conversation and working together."

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Johnson said the session was an "introductory meeting" that reviewed issues in the travel advisory and "the need for meaningful corrective action by the airline to prevent future incidents of this nature."

"We had a full and frank dialogue, but words are no substitute for action," Johnson said in a statement. "The NAACP looks forward to continuing its work with American Airlines to ensure that African-American customers are not subjected to racially discriminatory treatment.”

Mallory, who accused an American pilot of racism when he ordered her removed from a plane in Miami after a dispute over her seat assignment, called Tuesday's meeting the first in a series.

"There is a clear problem at American Airlines as evidenced by the videos and emails sent to me, particularly from women of color, that had been removed from planes and blatantly discriminated against," she said in a statement. "We hope that American Airlines will become a leader in setting industry standards that protect the rights of all people and provide one level of service for all passengers."

Related: NAACP Issues Travel Advisory Against American Airlines, Warns Black Travelers

The NAACP's travel advisory cited four incidents, including Mallory's, in which it believed African-American passengers were subject to discrimination.

American has responded cautiously, seeking to avoid a confrontation with Mallory or the NAACP.

 An American Airlines aircraft on the tarmac at LaGuardia Airport in New York. Carlo Allegri / Reuters

Parker said last week that the airline had a diverse workforce — about 15 percent of its employees are African-American — and his response to the NAACP criticism was: "How can that be true of us?" But, he added, meeting with the group was "a fantastic opportunity" to get better.

Since the start of 2016, American has been the subject of 29 racial discrimination complaints by passengers. That's a tiny fraction of the number of passengers the airline carries every day, but it is more complaints than were filed against any other U.S. carrier.

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