Alaska Airlines is being called out for kicking two Muslim men off a plane for… texting in Arabic?
Alaska Airlines kicked off two Muslim men
This incident goes back to February 17, 2020, when two men were flying Alaska Airlines first class from Seattle to San Francisco on a business trip. The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) is now calling on Alaska Airlines to address this “flying while Muslim” incident. The men have been seeking an apology from Alaska Airlines for 10 months, but haven’t gotten anywhere.
Here’s what the two men are claiming:
- One of the two men exchanged a few text messages with a friend in Arabic
- A fellow passenger reported these texts to a flight attendant as suspicious, despite the fact that the passenger didn’t speak Arabic, and could only identify a few emojis and numerals
- Due to the passenger’s complaint, the plane was delayed, and the two men were taken off and questioned
- The texts were translated, and a Port of Seattle Police Officer noted in a police report that “there was no threat of any kind”
- After it was determined there was no security threat, the airline took several “humiliating and distressing steps”
- All passengers were deplaned past the two men, who were being questioned by the TSA and FBI, and all passengers had to undergo another security screening
- The airline screened all cargo with a K-9 unit and even emptied the first class lavatory tank, simply because one of the men had used the lavatory while waiting for the delayed flight
- Even after it was determined that the two men weren’t a threat, they didn’t allow the men to take their original flight, instead rebooking them on a later, separate flight
Here’s how an attorney for CAIR describes the decision to come forward now:
“When the incident first happened, we expected that Alaska would come through with the refunds they promised and apologize. We didn’t go public at that time because the clients wanted to give Alaska some time to make amends. All they really wanted was a sincere apology and assurances that this would not happen to anyone else. Had they received that, we wouldn’t be coming forward now. But they didn’t, and then COVID-19 hit. With airlines being an industry so hard-hit by the pandemic, our clients didn’t want to cause Alaska Airlines additional harm by going public at that time. But now that the vaccine has been approved and people will inevitably get back to traveling, it has become more important than ever that we get assurances that Alaska will not treat any other Muslim travelers the way they treated our clients. That’s why we’re coming forward with their story now.”
This sounds absolutely disgraceful
First of all, we should acknowledge that this is just one side of the story, and you know, “innocent until proven guilty.” However, the police report does suggest “there was no threat of any kind,” which makes me assume that this was more of a misunderstanding than anything else, at best.
My initial assumption is that there must be more to the story. Surely nobody is kicked off a plane just for texting in a foreign language? But then I’m reminded of the fact that this is the umpteenth story of “flying while Muslim.”
I’ve written so many times about other incidents, where Muslim passengers were viewed as “suspicious,” when something similar from a non-Muslim wouldn’t arouse any concern. Heck, just over a year ago two Muslim men were kicked off an American Eagle flight because they waved to one another, and because one used the bathroom before departure and flushed twice.
So we’ll see how this situation evolves. If it’s exactly as presented then I’ll be really sad for how Alaska Airlines handled this situation. It’s bad enough to cave in to someone calling a text in a foreign language “suspicious.” It’s even worse to deplane and question them with no evidence. And then the worst is that they didn’t let them continue on the flight even when it was determined that they didn’t pose a threat.
So while I hope there’s more to the story, based on history I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s not.
I fully recognize that as a white dude I have a lot of privilege when it comes to flying. When I review flights I’m often walking fast down the jet bridge, snapping dozens of pictures of the cabin, etc., and no one bats an eyelid (well, except on Lufthansa and TAAG Angola). 😉 Unfortunately if I were Muslim, it would probably be a different story.
Two Muslim men claim to have been kicked off an Alaska Airlines flight from Seattle to San Francisco in February 2020, simply because one of them was texting in Arabic, and another passenger found that to be suspicious.
The two men ended up being deplaned and questioned, all passengers ended up being security screened again, the lavatory tanks were emptied, the K-9 unit searched cargo, and the two men weren’t even allowed back on board after having been cleared of all wrongdoing.
I’ll be curious to see how this unfolds…