8 Black men removed from American Airlines flight for 'body odor,' lawsuit claims

Three men have filed a racial discrimination lawsuit against American Airlines, claiming they and five other Black men were selectively removed from a flight from Phoenix to New York because of "body odor" complaints, only to be let back on the plane an hour later. 

The men – Alvin Jackson, Emmanuel Jean Joseph and Xavier Veal – were flying from Phoenix to JFK Airport in New York in January when the incident occurred. 

According to the lawsuit, an American Airlines representative approached several Black men on the plane, all of whom had flown separately, and "ordered them off the plane immediately, without explanation."


FILE - American Airlines planes are seen at US airport on May 9, 2024. (Photo by Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

"In fact, it appeared to plaintiffs that American had ordered all of the Black male passengers on Flight 832 off the plane," the lawsuit states. 

When the passengers demanded to know why they were removed, they were told there was a "complaint about body odor," the lawsuit states. 

"Plaintiffs were not told that they personally had body odor, and in fact none of the Plaintiffs had offensive body odor. When Plaintiffs pointed out that it looked like they had been singled out because they were Black, at least one of the American representatives said, ‘I agree. I agree,’" according to the lawsuit. 

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The men were all reportedly told they’d have to be rebooked on another flight, but the lawsuit says American wasn’t able to rebook them on different flights, so they were let back on the same plane after about an hour of waiting. 

"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 lawsuit states. 

Joseph, one of the plaintiffs, requested a different seat to avoid interacting with the White male flight attendant who initially made them deplane. 

"There was an available seat in first class that American could have given to Mr. Joseph," the lawsuit states. "Instead, American staff upgraded an Asian woman to first class, and then allowed Mr. Joseph to take her assigned seat in coach."

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The lawsuit is seeking unspecified damages "for fear, humiliation, embarrassment, mental pain, suffering, and inconvenience." It’s also seeking punitive damages to "punish [American Airlines] for its malicious, willful, wanton, callous, and reckless conduct."

"Imagine a flight attendant ordering every white person off a plane because of  a complaint about one white person," the three men told NPR. That would never happen. But that is what happened to us," the three men said. "There is no explanation other than the color of our skin ... clearly, this was discrimination."

American Airlines released the following statement when contacted by FOX TV Stations: 

"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, as the claims do not reflect our core values or our purpose of caring for people."