It was only a few months ago that American Airlines got some fantastic news that many other companies would truly love to hear.
Regardless of whatever accusations had happened in the past, and had led the NAACP to issue a "travel advisory," warning African-American passengers to travel on the airline with care, the organization gave American Airlines its approval.
"We're pleased with the outcome we've seen," NAACP president Derrick Johnson said at the time, citing American's "commitment to improve upon their internal processes and increase inclusion across their airline."
But to paraphrase Warren Buffett, it takes years to rehabilitate your reputation, and just a few minutes to destroy it again.
That's why the airline's supporters have to be concerned about claims made by the rapper Wale last night, who was apparently a passenger in first class on an American flight from JFK to LAX. He says (and tweeted about) two American employees who allegedly threatened to call police on him, and claimed he didn't actually "belong in first class."
How about ur employees Megumi and Don told me "ur not supposed to be in first class I'm calling the police ".-- Wale (@Wale) September 17, 2018
If you're not familiar with Wale, 33, born Olubowale Victor Akintimehin, he's a D.C. rapper, currently signed to Warner Brothers. He had a No. 1 album, The Gifted, in 2013. Sure enough, he tweeted a screenshot of his boarding pass which showed he was in first class all right, seat 4F.
It's not clear at all what led to the confrontation, which Wale tweeted about during a five-hour weather delay. His scheduled 5 p.m. Eastern takeoff didn't actually reach Los Angeles until after midnight Pacific.
But Wale tweeted exactly what he thought was the root cause of the incident: "Y'all racist."
Here u go. Y'all racist and I wanna know what happens now. Megumi and Don is their names. pic.twitter.com/SyvfGUuVas-- Wale (@Wale) September 17, 2018
Details here are a bit sketchy of course. For what it's worth, it's apparently the second time Wale has had an issue with American Airlines.
Back in 2013, when his album The Gift was No. 1 in the country, Wale tweeted that he was thrown off another American Airlines plane for not turning off his phone. The tweets are gone now, but referenced in a contemporary story in The Washington Post.
He also had a run-in with United Airlines, again documented on Twitter, where he missed a flight--after he said he was delayed at security by workers who didn't believe his first class ticket was real.
Is there a misunderstanding here? Or a dispute caused by something other than racism? We're in no position to judge. But this is exactly the kind of thing American Airlines--or any airline, or any business for that matter--wants to avoid. A company can work hard for years to build a good brand, only to have a few employees knock it down.
I asked American Airlines for comment. They emailed me the following statement:
"Discrimination has no place at American Airlines. From the team members we hire to the customers we serve, inclusion and diversity is a way of life at American. Every day, our team members work to make American a place where people of all generations, races, ethnicities, genders, sexual orientations, religious affiliations and backgrounds feel welcome and valued.
We are concerned about the comments from Mr. Akintimehin, and our team is reaching out to him to gather more information about what occurred last night.