Muslim passengers who recently flew on both Delta and American Airlines say they were removed from flights after being told attendants were “uncomfortable” with them remaining onboard. The two women removed from American work for the federal government.
Last night my friend and I were removed from American Airlines (AA) flight 2239 traveling from Miami International Airport (MIA) to Washington-Reagan National Airport (DCA) because the main crew airline attendant felt “unsafe” by our presence. Yup, the only two apparent Muslim girls on the plane got kicked off. Not sure if it was my friend’s statement “evil-eye” bracelet, the fact that I was watching a Pakistani drama on my iPhone, or our obvious Muslim last names that made him uncomfortable, but here’s the kicker, we both work for the United States Federal government.
Khalil is a producer and broadcaster for Voice of America, a news outlet funded by the U.S. government. (It was founded during World War II and is sometimes described as pro-U.S. government propaganda.) Her friend also works for the feds but didn’t want to be identified, Khalil told BuzzFeed.
Khalil wrote that the incident began after the plane was kept on the ground for hours, delayed first by fueling issues and then by weather. A “white, male” passenger behind her and her friend started complaining to them about “the lack of customer care,” she says, at which point a male flight attendant walked by and told her friend she could leave if she didn’t like it:
Suddenly, a male flight attendant walking by singled out my friend and stated, “If you have a problem, you can get off the plane.” My friend replied, “I have no problem—I am simply stating facts. We were given one glass of water in 5 hours.” The attendant responded by once again threatening my friend, “Well, I can have you removed for instigating other passengers.” The flight attendant was not wearing his name badge and did not identify himself.
Since I was wearing headphones (watching my Pakistani drama), I only realized something happened when my friend’s demeanor changed. She appeared shocked and visibly upset after the attendant walked away.
The women located another flight attendant and attempted to make a complaint, Khalil says. When they saw the male flight attendant again, they snapped a photo of him so the other crew member could identify him, which led to another bizarre encounter with a third attendant:
After she walked away, we saw him again and my friend took a picture so the female flight attendant could help identify him for us. A third flight attendant walked by and told us that by taking a picture, we were committing a “federal offense”. (Disclaimer: taking a photo of an airline crew member is not a federal offense, but apparently there is a publicly unknown AA policy that crew members can arbitrarily enforce with customers when a photo is taken without their consent.) The initial female flight attendant came back, asked us what happened, and we showed her the picture. She identified the male flight attendant as “Rog as in Roger” and then asked that we delete the picture. We immediately obliged and deliberately showed the flight attendant that we were deleting the picture. Thankfully, we still had the picture saved because it went to the “delete” folder.
In the end, a “customer care” representative for the airline appeared, Khalil says, and the two of them were escorted off the plane and into the waiting arms of police after being told they were making the male flight attendant (identified as “Roger”) feel “unsafe.” But the women weren’t arrested, and Khalil says the AA rep “freely admitted that it was obvious that the flight attendant ‘exaggerated’ the incident.”
Khalil says she and her friend were initially offered flight and meal vouchers, which somehow didn’t make up for the experience of being kicked off a plane for rather murky reasons. She said, too, that she only got American’s corporate customer service reps to call her back after BuzzFeed posted their story.
Back in April, American booted Cenk Uygur from a flight, the host of The Young Turks and someone with an extremely sizable social media presence. Again, a flight attendant reportedly got “uncomfortable,” he said, after he complained about a delay of nearly four hours. In July, American denied it had kicked a 40-year-old Muslim engineer off a flight for discriminatory reasons, a story that was less widely picked up because the person involved wasn’t a public figure.
Meanwhile over at Delta, the Council on American-Islamic Relations says a Muslim couple traveling to Paris were removed from a flight due to, again, an “uncomfortable” flight attendant. CAIR-Cincinnati says it’s filing a complaint against Delta with the U.S. Department of Transportation, and will hold a press conference on the incident Thursday afternoon.