Passenger Kicked Off Flight Because Someone Misunderstood His Arabic

Filed Under: Southwest

Over the years I’ve shared many stories of passengers being kicked off flights due to Islamophobia. In the US we’re conditioned with the phrase “if you see something, say something,” but I think that’s a slippery slope, and should come with an asterisk. Many people lack the ability to tell the difference between something which is simply different (which they’re not used to), and something which is actually suspicious. For example, someone praying to a different God or speaking a different language shouldn’t be suspicious.

Which brings us to the latest story from Southwest Airlines, where a passenger was kicked off a Los Angeles to Oakland flight, after another passenger misunderstood the Arabic he was speaking.


The 26 year old passenger was born in Iraq, and fled to the US in 2002, after his father was killed under Saddam Hussein’s regime.

Ironically he was flying from Los Angeles to Oakland because he had attended a dinner at the Los Angeles World Affairs Council with the secretary general of the United Nations.

Once on the flight he made a phone call to his uncle, which is where the trouble began. Per RawStory:

Makhzoomi explained that conversation was conducted in Arabic and, as he said goodbye, he used the phrase “inshallah,” which translates as “if God is willing.”

The student said that after hung up, he noticed a female passenger looking at him who then got up and left her seat.

“She kept staring at me and I didn’t know what was wrong,” he explained. “Then I realized what was happening and I just was thinking ‘I hope she’s not reporting me.’”

Moments later an airport employee asked Makhzoomi to step off the plane and onto the passenger boarding bridge where he was greeted by three security officers.

Makhzoomi was told the woman thought he said “Shahid,” meaning martyr — a term linked to Islamic terrorists.

He was removed from the flight and searched invasively by security officers. Then the FBI showed up to question him about his family, his phone call, and what he knew about martirysm. Even after he was searched, Southwest refused to transport him, so he ended up booking a flight on another airline, arriving home nine hours later than expected.

I can’t even begin to understand how any of this is okay. So he was searched and cleared by the FBI, but then Southwest still wouldn’t transport him?

On the plus side (I think?), this is the most advanced Islamophobia I’ve ever heard of on a flight. Apparently the other passenger misunderstood what he had said in Arabic, meaning presumably s/he was at least familiar with Arabic terms. That’s more than can be said for past instances of Islamophobia on planes, like the Southwest flight which was delayed because two guys dared to speak Arabic in the gate area, or the Spirit Airlines flight, which returned to the gate because a passenger was watching a “suspicious video.”

Here’s a video interview with the passenger who was kicked off the Southwest flight:

Bottom line

It really is sad to see how common this is becoming. I understand that airlines have to take all threats seriously. For example, even if a random person calls in a bomb threat for a flight as a prank, it will still cause the plane to divert. So I suppose the airlines are in a tough situation, since they have to investigate everything.

It’s sad, however, the things which passengers find suspicious, and also sad how unapologetic airlines are after the fact. This guy was removed from a flight due to someone else’s misunderstanding, and the airline even refused to transport him after he was cleared? That ain’t right!

  1. That really is shocking.
    If the other passenger was familiar with some or all of the Arabic language then surely they would understand the phrase inshalla with it being so commonly used.
    It’s one of the few Arabic phrases us English speaking Middle East expats use.

  2. I hate people who fee the need to make telephone calls on the airplane, but in any case, why does he not just speak English to avoid any suspicion ? Just a thought.

  3. Sad and ridiculous. The other passenger apparently knew just enough Arabic to be dangerous. Wish I knew how to get the public and air crews over their paranoia.

  4. @Harry

    Do you think everyone in the world speaks English? Despite the fact that it may make you feel better, your “just a thought” seems foolish at best.

    As to this story in general, it’s fresh off the heels of Southwest deplaning a Somali woman in a headscarf. Another point in a pattern of discrimination from Southwest.

  5. Thank you for highlighting this issue. Being a muslim from Bangladesh and having a wife who wears a head scarf, I am keenly aware of the scrutiny we get at airports or public places in general. So I go way out of my way to make sure that we not only speak in English with each other which we normally do anyway. but also not to make any extraordinary expressions or utterance in any way. I do understand the fear and I want to be safe too however I think it is more a lack of cultural understanding and a fear of the unknown for most people.

  6. Shahid/Shaheed is a first name of well over five million people — not all of whom are even muslim, not all of whom are even Arabs.

    Given the common daily use of the phrase “inshallah” by hundreds of millions of people — not all of whom are even muslim –it’s rather ridiculous that saying these names and phrases on a flight is an invitation to be flagged down as “suspicious”. Xenophobia — especially of the Islamophobic sort — has gotten out of control.

    If another one of my flights is delayed because some xenophobic paranoid person flags down a person as “suspicious” even when there is no articulable evidence of a crime in progress or crime committed, then I won’t be a happy camper. It’s the xenophobic nuts imagining threats where/when there are none that need to be “handled with care” and offloaded

  7. Southwest Airlines is really trying to win the title of the world’s most bigoted airline. So basically you can not speak arabic (or probably any other language that a mentally challenged southwest passenger may not understand) without being identified as a potential terrorist. That the airline won’t apologize shows they don’t care. It shows there is bigotry at the highest levels of the airline, because they apparently think yanking people off their plane for speaking arabic and subjecting them to evasive searches and causing them to miss their flight and then refusing to transport that person when they have been cleared by security is perfectly acceptable. This is obviously a case where there should be an apology. I won’t fly this airline as a result of these types of incidents that seem to keep happening on southwest.

  8. Sounds like the passenger did the right thing. Too many instances (San Bernardino) where people didn’t speak up.

    Southwest should have then accommodated the passenger once the FBI cleared the situation.

  9. “Islamophobia” is an oxymoron.

    A phobia is an irrational fear, and considering the millions of people that have been killed by Fundamentalist Moslems over the centuries, along with the tens of thousands of people killed by Islamic Terrorists over the past decade, fear of fanatical Moslems is absolutely not irrational.

    Even devout Moslems have a rational reason to fear other Moslems, as thousands of Moslems are killed every year for belonging to the “wrong sect” of Islam. Just one example being that Sunni Moslems in Pakistan have on numerous occasions sent suicide bombers into Shite Mosques when they were full of worshipers on Shite Holy Days. Fear of a “religion” whose “Holy Book” tells believers to massacre non-believers is totally rational. A fact to which nearly everyone currently living in Paris and Brussels can attest.

    So yes, due to this rational fear, people do sometimes overreact, as in this case. But that doesn’t make fear of the genuine danger posed by fanatical Moslems a phobia. Rather it makes the overreaction quite understandable.

  10. Why is swa to blame? A person made a false report based on information they clearly knew nothing about. No different than filling a fake police report. The person who made the false report should be punished to the fullest extent of the law for filing a false report/accusation. Before you make an accusation you better be sure you know what your talking about

  11. To speak up is not a bad thing at all, I would do the same if I were the other passenger. You never want to take a chance in things like this. However, I do think Southwest is inappropriate of refusing to carry him. If you cannot trust the search of FBI, there is no way you can be sure the passengers are clean after TSA.

  12. @liu

    Fully agree. We have to say something to protect ourselves if we don’t feel comfertable even though 99.99% it’s nothing serious. I feel bad for Muslims and the discrimination they face but at the same time I won’t risk my life or any of my family’s life. The issue here was SW not accommodating the passenger. I

  13. Agree with Harry, you are in America, just speak English to avoid any suspicion. Do agree southwest should have accommodated after FBI clearance

  14. Getting tired of people trying to make these about xenophobia or “Islamophobia”. Yea, it sucks for the 99% of normal Muslims, but this person did the responsible thing. Fact is Southwest should have stepped up, but don’t try to make it a racism thing.

  15. I find it really strange that Southwest didn’t put him on another flight after he was cleared.

  16. @Robert Hanson: ” ‘Islamophobia’ is an oxymoron.”

    Some Christian, somewhere, killed someone. Like, I dunno, that guy who was so opposed to abortion that he went and shot up a clinic. So now, by your “logic”, fear of Christians is rational, right?

    There is nothing oxymoronic at all about the term “Islamophobia,” but let’s get rid of the oxy and apply the remainder of the term to those idiots on the internet who can’t keep their pathetic bigotry to themselves.

  17. @Harry: “why does he not just speak English to avoid any suspicion ”

    Because nobody assumes that other people are going to think that speaking their mother tongue is suspicious. Do you speak German when you go to Germany just to avoid German people being suspicious of you because you’re an American who might go shoot up a school?

    Really, the level of stupidity on display here is astonishing.

  18. Goes to show stereotyping is prevalent in usa even when people say they don’t stereotype.

    Now here is my stereotype: Arabs are racist. They will kiss white ass and look down on anyone darker. So it’s a good thing that we are trying to better than what we are, but their culture is effed up.

  19. Its sad and appaulling ’til you get blown up. And please to all the PC white people who wanna call me out, take several seats. Y’all know you guys are the first to get scared.. It’s different when you at home writing PC comments.

    Can’t blame that woman for being scared. 9/11, Spain, London, Paris, Belgium, almost everyday in Iraq, shall I go on? These fears are legitimate. The next bomber could be your neighbor.

    So he was interrogated big deal.

  20. “Harry says:
    April 17, 2016 at 1:21 pm
    I hate people who fee the need to make telephone calls on the airplane, but in any case, why does he not just speak English to avoid any suspicion ? Just a thought.”

    The problem with Americans, so full of themselves. They think the world revolves around them and everyone is inferior. Shame on you really.

  21. I suspect there are a lot of people who skipped at least half the post. After the man was searched and interrogated and cleared by FBI, Southwest still refused to let him on a plane. So a nine hour delay PLUS having to buy another plane ticket at walk-up ratesz *That’s* why SWA is to blame, Sam. *That’s* why it’s a big deal, Psched.

  22. I guess I have to ask how many of you that see no problem in how this all played out take your children to a Catholic Church? Based on your logic you really shouldn’t. Chances are they will be molested with your logic.

    The US has certainly shown that early racism didn’t end anytime after the Civil War. Possibly taught people to hide it but history hasn’t changed our bias.

  23. Excuse me Steve, but the guy who murdered over 100 people in Paris was also interrogated/investigated and detaibed by German, French and European officials. The Belgian one was even under suspicion by Turkish authorities and even warned Europe about the threat.

    If your so enamouted by him, please drive/fly/sail him wherever and whenever you want. Girl bye.

  24. “Islamiphobia” is a social justice warrior term that supposed fo shut down any rational discourse because it accuses someone of having a “phobia” or mental disorder.

    People like you piss me off because there is no “phobia” when it comes to radical Islam.

    You are fearful of standing up to a cabbie that charges you too much but then call someone who takes a reasonable measure to report something he sees as suspicious when the stakes (peoples’ lives) are much, much higher and act high and mighty when it turns out to be a mistake.

    As if you are so reasonable and brave.

  25. This seems more balanced


  26. Another schleppy take on a serious situation. The only thing more predictable than the airlines’ collective response to these characters is schleppo’s distorted take on the situation. Come on benji ALL of your readers know how you feel – Blah Blah Blah. Stick to points, miles, and business class flights just to sit in a hotel room overseas and steer clear of other topics please.

  27. Wait, the FBI agent asked Mr. Makhzoomi while he was being searched if he had a knife on him? He was in the secure part of the airport! That just shows how much our own government trusts the TSA’s screening procedures.

    We need to practice common sense. Scapegoating every person who looks different or speaks a different language just makes the problem worse. If anyone who works at SWA or the FBI was smart enough to get into UC Berkeley they would understand that.

    I understand s/o reported a suspicion to the SWA crew so they have to act, but they should be apologetic and accommodative once they realize their mistake. Apologize and get him on the next flight with food or drink vouchers.

  28. Southwest’s power hungry stupid jerks strike again. It is truly amazing to me how far ahead they are in the race to the bottom.

  29. Sue the airline. The only way this racist bullshit stops is when lawyers step in and money is involved. Sue that low-life woman also who reported the man. These lawsuits must begin until these ignorant donkeys pull their heads out of their asses.

  30. Speak English, stay off the phone, when you are in a public place.

    I see too many people shouting on the phone, in public place.

    You want to be noticed..,SHOUT…

    You want to blend in, act normal, talk normal, dress normal..

  31. Discrimination in the US is growing more and more each day because people in the US are very ignorant in general, and don’t know how to differentiate a real threat from a day to day thing like someone speaking in Arabic because it’s their native language, and this is very sad indeed, people need to learn to be more cult and tolerant with something which is simply different.

  32. I grew up in the US. When I was twenty-eight, I moved to France. So, I did not become bilingual until was around thirty.

    Personally, I get a kick at watching English-only speaking Americans when they are in situations where they do not understand the language that is being spoken around them. You can see the discomfort and sometimes anxiety on their faces. There are three reasons for this. One, they are not used to these situations. Two, they are self-conscious (i.e., they are talking about me). Three, they feel a sense of inferiority because a good portion of English-only speaking Americans equate the ability to speak another language as an indication of intelligence. (It is not. A language is just a tool. Consider it like hammering a nail. You bust your thumb several times before get the hang of it but you eventually get pretty good at it.)

    So, as much as I find it is amusing to watch people like this squirm, it is impolite to talk on the telephone on public transportation and it is insulting to not take into consideration the sensitivities of those English-only speaking Americans.

    The guy was wrong to speak Arabic on the plane. The woman passenger was wrong to panic when she obviously did not understand Arabic. Southwestern’s behavior is absolutely inexcusable for not getting this guy to his destination.

  33. Gotta love all the morons who take umbrage with “Islamophobia” because they think it’s rational to be afraid of arabic people. By the same false logic, we should all be afraid of white Americans because of the OKC bombing. We should be afraid of all Irish people because of the IRA. We should be afraid of atheists because of Lenin and Christians because of the Crusades and Salem witch trials. Any attempt to rationalize fear of an entire demographic is further proof that it’s irrational.

  34. love it…hope all fliers are as vigilant as the passenger who reported him. One man misfortune is nothing compared to 300 lives lost should this be proven true.

  35. I can’t believe half of these comments! Just because someone is speaking in Arabic means that you have the right to question them?! What has the world become?

  36. My question is why am didn’t get interrogated on my EWR-SEA flight last night?! I WAS SPEAKING ENGLISH!!!!!!!! Every day, an English-speaking American kills 3+ people in the USA. So… tell me, why wasn’t I interrogated? @bill @Josh @psched @harry @robert @dave

  37. The quickest way to shut down white people is to call them bigoted or racist. Yes, white guilt is very real. White people would prefer to be called a pedophile than a racist or bigot. In any case, it seems like someone’s heart was in the right place. SWA did nothing wrong by taking this person off the flight. The only thing SWA did not do and should have was rebook this gentleman when he was cleared. I know what Inshallah means, and I also know what shaheed means. I would have reported his ass too if I heard him say shaheed. I like this blog, but for you Lucky to call this an instance of Islamophobia without knowing what the reporters experience was is ignorant on your part and I am surprised someone as intelligent as yourself would be so quick to toss around the Islamophobia bomb. Please people, if you see something that doesn’t add up, just say something. Better someone to be inconvenienced than to say nothing and the worst happens, all to satisfy your sense of social justice or you feel a sudden attack of white guilt.

  38. “I like this blog, but for you Lucky to call this an instance of Islamophobia without knowing what the reporters experience was is ignorant”

    Nowhere near as ignorant as the idiot passenger who misheard inshallah as shaheed. Whoever taught her Arabic needs to give her a refund.

  39. Oh I have to spend another week in Turkey, now that I just finished seeing the Blue mosque, the Ayasofia, and the Spice Bazaar I’m going to the Grand Bazaar (which was closed yesterday), the Palace and tomorrow I’m moving to Taksim (where you may be aware was just bombed recently) before I head to Budapest, then I’m on my way to a klan meeting.

    I think it’s hilarious that the SJWs hurling insults are so brave on the internet but definitely wouldn’t have the stones to come to Turkey seeing as how it’s on at the warning list right now.

    There are some real brainiacs on this page.

    How about this; You have Islamohilla. You also suffer from Xenophillia.

    Anytime I don’t agree with you I’ll accuse you of a mental disorder and hurl out insults just as you do.

    A guy was unfortunately delayed on his flight by a ridiculous amount of time and according to the SJWs on this page there was no justification in the world for someone acting on misinformation, everyone’s lives be damned.

    I bet the guy who reported it thought “I don’t know for sure, but I could never live with myself if I’m wrong and this plane is blown up so I’m going to say something”.

    I’m willing to bet you geniuses that claim to be all knowing make mistakes all the time acting on the wrong information but because it was a person shouting Arabic all of a sudden it’s unforgivable and anyone that says differently is a racist. Islam isn’t a race morons. And no one would be batting an eyelash on the plane if people weren’t regularly killed in the name of a religion that regularly produces fanatics shouting Arabic phrases praising their god just before they commit some horrible act.

    These killers in California were not hiding anything. Everyone around them knew what was going on and no one said a word.

    The Paris killers, same thing and in fact were walking around openly in Brussels AFTERWARD.

    The funny thing is, many muslims will tell you it’s totally reasonable to be suspicious.

    It’s SJW white people who are never around the people they are offended on behalf of that are always virtue signaling to anyone that will listen about how open minded they are.

    Next you’ll be calling me sexist or the current buzzword “misogynist”.

    That’s always the case and when that doesn’t fail you’ll accuse me of being in my mother’s basement looking at porn.

    Ironic how you’re the “intellectuals” but never allow any discourse and shut down any conversation by condemning people of one of your four horsemen Racist, Xenophobe, Homophobe, or Islamophobe.

    The other poster is right “Lucky”, stick to what you know and talk about points, miles, and hiding in hotel rooms.

  40. Aaron, the passenger wasn’t an idiot. She misheard something and it was incorrect. It makes her wrong, not an idiot. So people for fear of offending the left wing gods shouldn’t say something? Whatever. As long as him speaking Arabic wasn’t the only reason why she said something and it was the fact that she misheard him say something, she wasn’t bigoted. She just reported what she thought was wrong. The only actors I think that failed here was SWA as they should have rebooked him once he was cleared by the authorities. Save the pious social justice for the college campuses. At least they’re on the ground. A metal tube 35000 feet in the air is no place to placate white guilt.

  41. Gosh, what acrimony on here. An alien might think the terrorists are actually winning.

    I would think the passenger is right to express concerns, and the affected passenger should be dealt with respectfully and with all practical haste.

    What confuses me is why both of them weren’t taken off the aircraft. Do law enforcement not need to hear directly from the concerned party exactly what was heard?

    Here I would suggest taking both passengers off the aircraft, dealing with the matter very efficiently as law enforcement appeared to do, have both passengers shake hands at the end and put them both on the next available flight, upgraded if possible.

    Given the recent SWA incidents, perhaps there is some back story here. Maybe they have been explicitly threatened and are overly cautious as a result. We would likely never know if that was true.

  42. Bunch of rich white old racists in this thread. I wonder how many cab drivers they report for speaking arabic on the phone while you’re in their cab.

  43. US paranoia. This is one of the reaons I refuse to fly uS airlines oder via the US to my destinations in Central- or Southamerica from Europe.

  44. A majority of the American population is ignorant. It is the actions of the airline which surprise me. However, it is not surprising that the attendants on board are equally ignorant on domestic routes. There is a reason for the negative perspective of Americans abroad.

  45. @Psched:

    So why let him board ANY plane? Execute him on the spot. Obviously if he has a mere *chance* of taking over the plane (with what exactly I’m not sure, given that they searched him and his luggage as well), he has to be prevented from doing so. So why don’t you take care of the supposed problem permanently? In fact, let’s just do things your way from now on: summary execution for any slightly suspicious passenger. Think of all the business and first class space freed up!

  46. I think middle aged, significantly overweight, low income, low self-esteem white females are becoming more and more racist in this country. FAs belong to minority groups oblige whatever WFs say.

    Old white males are just getting the bad rap trying to defend after the fact.

    SOP should be to have cooling off period for both and airline/authorities should show little empathy towards the suspect. 15 years later we do not have process or trained staff to deal with it.

Leave a Reply

If you'd like to participate in the discussion, please adhere to our commenting guidelines. Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Reminder: OMAAT comments are changing soon. Register here to save your space.