FWM: Flying While Muslim
It happened again. This time, Atif Irfan turned to his wife while boarding an AirTran flight from DC to Orlando and wondered aloud where the safest place to sit would be. Worried passengers saw Irfan’s beard and his headscarf and notified flight attendants, who then notified the TSA. Next thing you know, Irfan and his wife were taken off the plane and questioned in the jetway. Six family members were taken off the plane. Then a family friend who was traveling with them was removed.
All but one of the passengers taken off the train are American-born US citizens. They were taken to a quarantine area and questioned by the FBI. Mr. Irfan’s three small nephews weren’t even allowed to have food the family had brought in their carry-on luggage. The FBI eventually cleared them for travel, but AirTran refused to fly them, refunding their fares instead. The family had to pay twice as much to get on USAirways flight to Orlando. This is ironic, given it was USAirways that was involved in a previous scrape when six Muslim clerics were removed from a flight after praying in the Minneaqpolis-St. Paul airport.
“To be honest, as a Muslim, we do understand how to deal with this, we realize this is an unfortunate aspect in our lives,” he said by telephone from Orlando. “Whenever we get on a plane, because of the color of our skin, people tend to look at us with a wary eye anyway. Of course it was very embarrassing.”
The most embarrassing part of all, Mr. Irfan, came when AirTran told everyone on the the airplane to disembark, so officials could sweep the plane; the passengers all walked directly past Mr. Irfan’s family in the terminal.
AirTran defended its actions at first.
An AirTran spokesman, Tad Hutcheson, told The Washington Post that the airline’s better-safe-than-sorry approach was appropriate and minimized the ethnic-profiling aspect of the story:
At the end of the day, people got on and made comments they shouldn’t have made on the airplane, and other people heard them. Other people heard them, misconstrued them. It just so happened these people were of Muslim faith and appearance. It escalated, it got out of hand and everyone took precautions.
But Mr. Irfan said that at no time did he or his wife utter the word “bomb” or any other word that could be taken as suspicious. He said the two passengers who seemed to be taking note of his conversation with his wife were teenage girls.
But now, Air Tran has apologized to the inconveniencedpassengers and offered compensation, calling the incident “a misunderstanding.” But if the same conversation occurred with a family wearing yarmulkes, or a blond, aryan-looking family, would this have happened at all?Click here for reuse options!
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