Bobby Abtahi, a Dallas attorney who also serves as the vice-chair of the City Plan Commission, tweeted Monday that Virgin Airlines wouldn’t allow him to board a flight in New York. A crew member told him the captain didn’t feel “comfortable” with him on board. Abtahi, a Dallas native, is Iranian-American.
Abtahi, who has also been a city council candidate and is well-known in Dallas, tweeted earlier today that he was being prevented from boarding a plane at LaGuardia Airport in New York. He added sarcastically that he was awaiting Ashton Kutcher’s arrival, because he was sure he must be on Punk’d.
Abtahi forwarded Jezebel the statement he provided to the Dallas Morning News. He says in it that he was pulled aside by the gate agent and told the captain was “not comfortable” with him getting on board. He said that after he asked for a reason and to speak to the pilot, he was told the “discomfort” was because because he’d “cut off” a crew member on his way into the airport.
New York: where we never cut anybody off.
A supervisor soon arrived and went on the plane to speak to the crew, Abtahi adds, and he was still not allowed on the flight. He was allowed to cancel it with no penalty.
Abtahi told the Morning News that he “truly hopes” the decision was not related to his race: “[B]ut the thought did cross my mind since I haven’t shaved in five days and my hair is a mess. I’ve been on a beach for five days.”
Abtahi was able to re-book with American Airlines and get on his way; American tweeted rather pointedly that they were happy to have him on board.
Meanwhile, a host of Dallas City Council members and media figures started tweeting that they’d very much like an explanation for Virgin’s decision. (Technically, airline contracts of carriage do allow wide latitude for flight crews to decline to let a passenger board for any reason.)
Jezebel asked Abtahi if he’s planning to sue or file a formal complaint with the airline.
“All I want is an apology,” he replied.
Abtahi tweeted that he has not yet heard from Virgin’s corporate office. Safe to say he likely will, and that they will probably agree this was a pretty bad choice.
Update, 8:15 p.m.:
A Virgin spokesperson emailed us the following statement. They’re sorry.
After further review, we believe this was the result of a misunderstanding and we’re reaching out to apologize to Mr. Abtahi this afternoon for his experience today. As an airline that prides itself on our award-winning guest service, we take issues like this very seriously. We are sorry Mr. Abtahi had this experience today, as it was not representative of the guest service for which we are known. To further apologize, we’re offering Mr. Abtahi two free future flights on us (as well as full reimbursement for his flight today).
Update, 8:30 p.m.:
Abtahi tells Jezebel he has declined those free flights and that Virgin has agreed to donate them to the charity of his choice, the Human Rights Initiative of North Texas. HRI provides legal services to immigrants and refugees who have suffered human rights abuses.
Bobby Abtahi. Image via RBA Lawyer, used with permission.