Robert Isom

Dallas — American Airlines has placed an unspecified number of employees on leave for their involvement in an incident where several Black passengers were removed from a flight in Phoenix, reportedly due to a complaint about body odor.

American CEO Robert Isom expressed his disappointment in a note to staff, stating that the incident was unacceptable.

“I am incredibly disappointed by what happened on that flight and the breakdown of our procedures,” Isom wrote. “It contradicts our values. … We fell short of our commitments and failed our customers in this incident.”

Three Black passengers filed a lawsuit last month, alleging that they were removed from the January flight due to racial discrimination. They claimed they were informed that a white male flight attendant had complained about an unidentified passenger’s body odor.

The men stated they were strangers and seated separately while awaiting departure for New York. According to their account, they were among eight passengers – all the Black men on the flight – who were instructed to leave the plane.

The men said they demanded an explanation for their removal during a confrontation with airline personnel in the jet bridge. At least one of the men recorded the discussion, capturing an airline employee seemingly acknowledging that the men were discriminated against, as per their lawsuit.

After a delay of approximately an hour, they were permitted to reboard the plane.

American declined to disclose the number of employees placed on leave or their job titles. A spokesperson for the airline stated, “We are holding those involved accountable, including removing team members from service.”

Isom announced that American would form an advisory group dedicated to addressing the experiences of Black customers, promoting the reporting of discrimination allegations, and enhancing diversity training to “focus on real-world situations to help recognize and address bias and discrimination.”

In his note, previously reported by CBS News, Isom mentioned speaking with the president of the NAACP about the incident. The civil rights group did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Thursday.

American has faced allegations of discrimination in the recent past. In 2017, the NAACP advised its members against flying on the airline, alleging that several African American passengers had encountered discrimination from airline employees. American pledged to implement changes, and the NAACP lifted its advisory almost nine months later.