The travel advisory issued by the NAACP against American Airlines for its treatment of blacks might be just the tip of the iceberg as all industries, especially airlines, face increased scrutiny of race and gender bias.
Repeated accounts of discrimination in the technology industry, which was formerly thought to be inclusive and progressive, has brought the bias issue to the forefront, says Katie Sprehe, senior director of corporate reputation and brand strategy at Washington, D.C.-based APCO Worldwide, a communications firm that specializes in crisis management. "The policy community [in Washington D.C.] is taking notice," she says, noting that the recent issue with American Airlines could be a "wake-up call, especially for consumer-facing companies, that people are paying more attention not just in how they're treating customers but in terms of internal corporate culture and internal processes."
On Tuesday, the NAACP cited several disturbing incidents of African-American passengers forced to give up their seats or being removed from flights, "specific to American Airlines."
The organization urged travelers to "exercise caution, in that booking and boarding flights on American Airlines could subject them to disrespectful, discriminatory or unsafe conditions."
Sprehe suggested that perceptions of wrongdoing in one area, including mistreating black customers, could make consumers question other practices at a company as well.
"People might wonder, 'Well, if this is how they're treating African Americans, what else are they doing wrong, am I safe on this plane?" she says.
Fort Worth, Texas-based American is not taking the allegations lightly. The company immediately responded to the NAACP on Wednesday. Without denying the incidents in question, Chairman and CEO Doug Parker said in a statement that he was disappointed to learn of the travel advisory and noted that he has reached out to the NAACP to address their concerns. "We do not and will not tolerate discrimination of any kind," he said.
By Wednesday afternoon, consumers were already taking to Twitter to share their negative experiences on American flights. Many posted under the #Happened2MeOnAA hashtag.