There’s a story going viral about a Muslim woman who was kicked off an American Airlines flight from Newark to Charlotte yesterday, and arrested.
Several readers have asked my take on the situation, so I’ll recap what we know, and then share my general take based on the little information we have.
The side of the story that we know
The first thing to understand is that we only have one side of the story here. So in this section I’ll share the claims by Amani al-Khatahtbeh, the woman who was kicked off an American Airlines flight and arrested.
The story starts with what happened at the security checkpoint. As al-Khatahtbeh shares on Twitter:
I had the craziest experience in TSA this morning.
An entitled white man behind me insisted on cutting me in line because I was “still taking my shoes off.”
When I said he could wait like everyone else, he started going off about how he’s “pre check” and “first class.” He then proceeded to not only shove his things before mine, but then RUN THROUGH THE MACHINE and TSA did NOTHING!
Not only did they not do anything, a TSA officer had the audacity to tell ME to “cut it out.”
Y’all know if I, a VEILED MUSLIM WOMAN, had the audacity to throw a temper tantrum and run through TSA security, I would have gotten BODIED. I would have been detained, missed my flight, possibly gotten charged, etc.
Less than an hour later, al-Khatahtbeh Tweets the following:
Guys he made a complaint about me and @AmericanAir is attempting to remove me from the flight.
She also posts a live video from the flight on Facebook, which starts when she finds out that she’s going to be removed from the flight, and the recording only stops when she’s arrested. Here’s the video (be warned that there’s some bad language, though personally that’s significantly less offensive to me than her mask compliance):
To summarize, a police officer comes onboard, and al-Khatahtbeh refuses to get off the plane unless the man in first class gets off the plane as well. Since she refuses to get off the plane they end up having to deplane everyone, and as she’s deplaned she’s arrested.
My initial take on this situation
Let me start by saying that I’ve never walked a day in the shoes of a Muslim woman, so there’s only so much I can relate to, no matter how hard I try. I absolutely believe that Islamophobia is real, and I’ve written a countless number of times about the completely unfair circumstances that have caused Muslims to be kicked off planes for how they look or the language they speak.
With that out of the way, I have a lot more questions than answers. A few things come to mind:
We only have one very limited side of the story
I would have to imagine that major details are missing from al-Khatahtbeh’s story. Somehow we went from a disagreement at security to her being asked to leave the plane.
She saw the man in first class, it would appear, so what happened? What was their interaction like? Did they have a conversation? Did she record him? We don’t know…
In a statement, American Airlines said that al-Khatahtbeh got into a “verbal altercation that continued through the terminal and on the plane,” and that she “confronted the passenger and began filming him before taking her seat.” Filming other passengers without their consent does violate American Airlines’ policy.
Was the TSA checkpoint incident a big deal?
I was confused to begin with by what exactly happened at the TSA checkpoint that caused this entire confrontation, what she calls “the craziest experience. Here’s what I assumed, based solely on her side of the story:
- It seems like she was taking her time, so the man went ahead of her; this is something I see happen all the time, and it’s something that TSA agents even sometimes encourage
- She claims the man then ran through the machine, and the TSA didn’t do anything; I’m not sure what she’s attempting to infer with that, and it makes me wonder how hyperbolic she’s being?
- She doesn’t say what she told the man or the TSA agents, but she claims the TSA told her to “cut it out”
- She most definitely has a point when she claims that as a veiled Muslim woman she might be in a tougher spot if she threw a temper tantrum (though again, her side of the story doesn’t otherwise suggest that the man threw a temper tantrum)
If all of that were the case, ideally the guy would have politely asked if he could go ahead of her. However, at the end of the day I’d say the man’s actions as described by her were moderately rude and inconsiderate, and that’s it. This is hardly noteworthy, in my opinion.
Well, a statement from the TSA sheds a lot more light on what happened, and this basically boils down to the passenger not understanding how TSA Pre-Check works. Here’s what a TSA spokesperson said:
“No complaint was made by any passengers at the checkpoint. If there was a customer service issue on board the aircraft, that is an airline matter. In situations such as this, TSA has no involvement after a passenger clears the checkpoint and boards a flight.
The man was directed to the TSA PreCheck lane. The woman was directed to the non-TSA PreCheck lane, so they went in different directions to be screened. An officer told both passengers to tone down the volume of the conversation.”
How she tried to rally other passengers
Should the crew have just taken the man’s word about the situation when calling the police to remove her from the flight? Absolutely not… if that were the case. But again, we don’t know if they were only going off of what the man said.
What did she say when she walked past him in first class, and did the crew witness it, because there’s at least one flight attendant standing at the forward door during boarding?
I also find it interesting how she tries to get all the passengers around her to rally against “the man in first class.” When she refuses to get off the plane everyone has to deplane, and at that point she starts claiming that everyone is having to get off the plane because the man in first class is refusing to get off the plane. She suggests that if they had just kicked off the man in first class, there would be no problem.
Also, while I can totally understand how a situation like this can raise one’s blood pressure, she uses some language in the video that’s clearly not appropriate to use on planes, and it makes me further wonder what the interaction was between her and the other passenger.
Why was she arrested, though?
It seems she was actually arrested and spent some time in jail, and I’m a little curious why? We see all kinds of horrible situations happen on planes where people have to be removed by the police, but rarely does it lead to an arrest. That’s true even when people yell, cuss, etc.
So that leads to one of two conclusions — either they were being unnecessarily harsh, or there’s a lot more to the story that hasn’t been revealed (or perhaps both).
A Muslim woman was kicked off an American Airlines flight and arrested yesterday. This came after she refused to get off the plane, at which point all passengers had to be deplaned. This whole confrontation seemed to arise at least partly because this woman didn’t understand how TSA Pre-Check works.
I don’t ultimately know what happened here, or who was in the right or wrong. What I do know is that we only have one side of the story, and that side of the story doesn’t even attempt to provide full details of the incident.
There have been a countless number of cases of Islamophobia on planes over the years — we’ve seen people kicked off for praying because other passengers were “uncomfortable.”
In this case I don’t think we have enough information to really know whether that was a motivation here or not.
What do you make of the facts presented in this situation?