Two Muslim men are accusing Alaska Airlines of violating their civil rights when they were kicked off a flight for texting in Arabic.
The Washington state chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations stated this incident is another egregious example of “flying while Muslim.”
“Imagine being innocent, and then suddenly you became accused of being criminal,” said Abobakkr.
Abobakkr and his friend, Mohamad, said they were humiliated and discriminated against Feb. 17. They were sitting in first class on an Alaska Airlines flight from Seattle to San Francisco on a business trip.
“The most embarrassing thing was when the agent came in to aircraft and had us stand up to leave with our bags. Everyone saw us as we were being removed,” Mohamad said.
It all started when another passenger saw text messages in Arabic on Abobakkr’s phone and reported them as being suspicious even though the passenger didn’t speak Arabic.
CAIR-WA stated the men were forced off the plane and questioned.
It stated the texts were translated and showed no security threat. CAIR-WA provided this translation of the texts, which read in part, “Peace be upon you, Captain.”
CAIR-WA also provided a report from the Port of Seattle Police Department. In it, the responding officer said, “An Alaska Airlines manager told me there was a misunderstanding ... there was no threat of any kind.”
Still, CAIR-WA stated the airline deplaned all the other passengers. They had to undergo another security screening, a K-9 unit came in, and the airline even emptied the bathroom because one of the men had used it. Then, the men weren’t allowed to take their original flight and were booked on separate flights to San Francisco.
“This is humiliation they had to endure at the hands of so many different levels of the chain of command,” said Imraan Siddiqi, CAIR-WA’s executive director.
“I think above and beyond all things what these gentlemen want is not just a refund and a formal apology. Though those are things we are asking for. What they want to see is a systemic change because this came from what really appears to be a systemic issue in their threat response process,” said Brianna Auffray, CAIR-WA’s legal and policy manager.
“When we travel that day, we are not greeted the same as other people. It make me feel little and make me feel like I was not equal to other people. I don’t want this to happen again,” Abobakkr said.
A statement from Alaska Airlines reads: “We’re sorry that two of our guests had such a distressing experience last February, when they were removed from their flight after a fellow passenger became concerned about the text messages his seatmate was sharing. Alaska Airlines strictly prohibits unlawful discrimination, and we take such complaints very seriously. Our greatest responsibility is to ensure that our flight operations are safe, and that was our goal on February 17th, as it is every day. We have launched an internal investigation of the incident to determine whether there were any missteps on our part, and are in contact with CAIR and the two guests.”
CAIR-WA stated it intended to file a lawsuit on Monday. But after Alaska Airlines reached out last Friday, CAIR-WA now stated it’s trying to settle this as amicably as possible.