Southwest Flight Delayed Because Passengers Spoke Arabic

Filed Under: Southwest

While the events unfolding around the world are terrible, that’s no excuse for being a bigot.

On Thursday I wrote about the Spirit Airlines flight between Baltimore and Chicago, which returned to the gate so four passengers could be questioned. One of the passengers was watching a “suspicious video,” which prompted the plane to be turned back. I can only imagine how horrifying this situation must have been for all the innocent passengers aboard, like Jenna Farelli, who said the following:

“I started praying to God, like, I literally thought that plane was going to blow up. It was the scariest moment of my life.”

Yes, nothing scarier than having to share a plane with people who look like they’re from “that” region! Hopefully she never flies Etihad, where they start each flight with a travel prayer:

Unfortunately the small-mindedness goes beyond the passengers on the Spirit flight between Baltimore and Chicago.

A Southwest flight from Chicago to Philadelphia was delayed on Wednesday night after two Palestinian-American passengers were told to step aside during boarding because other passengers didn’t feel comfortable flying with them. Via NBC10:

Khalil, 29 and Ayyad, 28, moved to Philadelphia from Palestine 15 years ago. Khalil now owns the Feltonville pizza shop — Pizza Point — that gave him his first job. The friends were in Chicago visiting each other’s families and met back at the airport Wednesday night to take the same flight home. The gate agent told them apologetically they wouldn’t be allowed to board because a passenger was afraid to fly with them after overhearing the men speaking Arabic.

“I didn’t know what to do, so I called the cops,” Khalil said.

The flight was delayed and the two men were ultimately allowed to board after being questioned again by airport security and police. The airline issued a statement acknowledging a brief disagreement with two customers.

Southwest issued the following statement regarding the incident:

“Safety is our primary focus, and our Employees are trained to make decisions to ensure that safety, and to safeguard the security of our Crews and Customers on every flight,” the airline’s statement read.

Frankly I find the way Southwest handled this situation, including their statement, to be disappointing. If someone is a racist and feels uncomfortable, let them take another flight. But to pull aside or delay passengers in any way for speaking Arabic is ridiculous. They deserve an apology.

Unfortunately it seems the racism didn’t end even once they boarded, though kudos to the two passengers for how they acted:

“We’re walking down the aisle and I’d already told him [Ayyad] to smile and act like nothing was wrong. But then people kept asking me, ‘What’s in that box?!’ I was carrying a small white box. And the passengers made me open the box!”

“So I shared my baklava with them.”

That’s how it’s done!

Here’s an NBC10 video of the situation:

Bottom line

Airlines are of course there to ensure everyone’s safety, though there’s a fine line between doing that and enabling racism, as was the case here. Based on all the reports I’ve seen of the story, the two passengers did nothing to cause being called out, and were even subjected to bullying aboard. Good on them for the positive attitude they took.

It’s interesting that there have been three such incidents this week, and two have been on Southwest and one on Spirit. Just saying…

  1. I, too, am not surprised that the city busses of air travel are the airlines where we are seeing this sort of behavior. I expect Alegiant and Frontier to be next in the news.

    But it IS disappointing that Southwest wasn’t more gracious about it. Despite their passenger mix being more geared toward the budget conscious, they still have/had a reputation for being great about customer service to ALL passengers. Well, except maybe fat passengers…but that’s another story. While I loathe to fly WN for a host of reasons, I guess I can add bigotry to that list, too.

  2. Thanks for posting this Lucky! Sadly, in the media this incident was reported as Southwest’s actions were totally warranted. It’s amazing to me that the woman who said the first quote was not at all embarrassed about giving her name.

    It’s funny how the same people who act all tough with their guns are the ones who are so afraid of two brown men with baklava. Unfortunately, it’s no longer considered bigoted to hate brown people.

  3. Does this mean I can fly on my own private jet? I don’t feel comfortable flying with other people around. Except for the crew of coarse, they make me feel safe. Idiots, and I’ve always liked Southwest. If someone doesn’t feel safe flying then THEY shouldn’t fly.

  4. Had I been on that flight, I wonder if it would have been delayed if I had complained I didn’t feel comfortable flying with such openly racist bigots.

  5. I hope any folks in the area of the pizza shop will order a pizza from Pizza Point to thank them for making this a better country.

  6. What more can be expected. You have 31 Governors saying they won’t allow refugees in their states. You have the Republican candidates running for office on a racist platform. There is no better way to be patriotic in the US than show your racism. It is going to get a whole lot worse before it gets better.

  7. Not sure where the bigotry is, Id probably be nervous too. To call this bigotry at a time like this is arrogant, dont act like we shouldnt be on high alert right now. I gave up some of my freedoms in the name of safety on a plane so its not entirely crazy to expect everyone else to. Bottom line is after a huge terrorist attack by Arabic soeaking people, probably dont speak Arabic at an airport for a while. But then again Im not some enlightened, holier than thou world traveler.

  8. @ Dave C:
    Arabic is spoken by hundreds of millions of peaceful people.
    Is a person more likely tobe a violent criminal because he speaks one extremely popular language, rather than another extremely popular language?

    In case you’re a citizen of the United States of America, I invote you to consider the principle (not just in law, but in ordinary daily life) of “presumption of innocence”.

    To call this bigotry “at a time like this” is the solution. To practice bigotry “at a time like this” is the problem.

    Embrace difference. It’s the only reality there is.

  9. I should call out white people who speak English our next time because all the mass shooting in the US are by white people who speak English. I wonder why this kind of discrimination does not happen in most of the other parts of the world.

  10. I agree with your post but please do not throw racism around so easily. This is not an issue of racism, it’s xenophobia. We have enough people dropping the racism card just because two parties have different skin colors.

  11. Great opinion piece, I think this is your true medium. Even had me convinced I was reading the NY Times for a moment.

  12. from DaveC “……….. All you people claiming “xenophobia” are playing right into their hands…”.

    totally agree 100 % !!!

  13. You know, I’m not in any way about to defend the airline or the people who lodged a complaint about the passengers of Middle Eastern origin, but I can do without your characterization of them as small minded.

    As someone who squeals like a school girl about a glass of Krug and other trivial things you seemingly find important, as reflected in your blog posts, perhaps you should show a little more restraint.

  14. Thank you, Lucky! I’m glad that you and most of the commenters here (though, sadly, not all) are on the side of rationality and tolerance.

  15. @ Ron – People who assume that passengers of Middle Eastern origin are possible terrorists aren’t small minded? If not, what are they? Well, one thing those small minded people are is clueless. Anyone who pays even a modicum of attention to the news should realize that terrorists come in different colors and religions, and even Muslim extremists can be white. There are Christian extremists, too, and right here in the United States. Search “Christian Identity” and you will find plenty of incidents perpetrated by white terrorists. If you still think those skiittish Southwest passengers aren’t small minded, you must really despise Lucky and just want to pick on whatever slip you think you’ve found in his posts.

  16. I’m going to a movie later today. I’m going to be nervous with all the white people in there, because, you know, white people have shot up movie theaters before.

  17. George says:
    November 21, 2015 at 9:49 am
    I agree with your post but please do not throw racism around so easily. This is not an issue of racism, it’s xenophobia. We have enough people dropping the racism card just because two parties have different skin colors.

    1. Xenophobia is no more acceptable than racism is, so the incessant whinging from bigot apologists in times like this is rather bizarre.

    2. I find it incredibly hard to believe someone with such bigoted views isn’t also a racist. In fact, I’d wager if these two men were white then they wouldn’t have batted an eyelid.

  18. Dave C writes: “Not sure where the bigotry is, Id probably be nervous too. To call this bigotry at a time like this is arrogant, dont act like we shouldnt be on high alert right now. I gave up some of my freedoms in the name of safety on a plane so its not entirely crazy to expect everyone else to. Bottom line is after a huge terrorist attack by Arabic soeaking people, probably dont speak Arabic at an airport for a while. But then again Im not some enlightened, holier than thou world traveler.”

    It’s true that you’re not enlightened, but you are indeed holier-than-thou (not to mention an ignorant and racist asshat) in your demands that Americans give up their right to speak the language they choose at the airport. There are hundreds of millions of people on this planet who speak Arabic, very few of whom are going to blow up your airplane. By your logic (such as it is), you should also be prevented from flying because some terrorists speak English just like you.

  19. #America

    @Dave ac, xenophobia in Germany resulted in that thing called the Holocaust. Xenophobia has never been a good thing looking back in history…

  20. @Johnny Mac: “get out of the country white people started which is America, France, Canada,….and so on.” I take it you are Texan. I guess it is easy to look at the way your wonderful country America was started. Slaughtering and enslaving the Native Americans and Mexicans, enslaving the Africans to do the hard labor, and then keeping them down so as to not loose your country. Get on that soap box of yours and show your signs of “Take Back our Country”. Such pride. I think your argument is pathetic and arrogant. Bet it just kills you waking up everyday knowing a black man is leading your country. He should go back to Africa, right? People like you make me sick.

  21. Clean it up, Ben. There is a limit.
    There are posts here that simply have to be deleted.
    Think for a moment about what it says about you, if you don’t.
    Not to mention what happens to your readership.

    It’s fine to drive clicks with ever more provocative posts, but there’s a price. Time to pay it.

  22. Please block Johnny Mac. Even for those (not me) who agree with his views, this is an airline and travel blog. I support free speech, but his points are best posted and debated elsewhere.

  23. Lucky – please go back to removing Johnny Mac’s comments. No-one is interested and it proves nothing allowing his poison on this blog. Johnny Mac – what a sad world you live in.

  24. You’re trolling for clicks. Looks like it worked. However, this is supposed to be a blog about “Tips, Tricks and Travel with Lucky”, and this is none of the above. Quit pandering to the current media craze, and continuing to stoke the fires that are dividing this country. There is enough of that going on.

  25. So we’ve only got the story from the two guys, right? It’s impossible for me to believe that they were denied boarding simply because another passenger felt uncomfortable with their appearance and/or language. I’m also suspicious of their claim that people asked “what’s in the white box?” as they were boarding the subsequent flight. Usually when stories don’t make sense it’s because we haven’t been told all of the facts. The guys were real quick to run to the media. I have a feeling the incident didn’t occur exactly as they recounted it….

  26. Reading Johnny Mac’s tirade was like listening to a Ben Carson rally.

    But seriously Lucky…get rid of those posts.

  27. @tara, maybe in isolation this might be difficult to believe (not for me, but apparently for you), but this is the second time this week. The others were pulled off for watching a news report (and, of course, looking Arab). Pretty much identical accounts in both cases, and very similar response by Southwest in both cases, so it should become a whole lot easier to believe.

  28. Please get both sides of this story before posting biased stories. I’m not prepared to believe this story about SWA 100%. They have an excellent reputation for intolerance of any kind of racism without exception. For those of you launching off on SWA, get the full story. They are diverse and inclusive. For me, supporting SWA, canceling following this blog. Done. Done

  29. @Lucky, I am not sure doing the interview that brought so many to your site was a good idea. It appears it is changing the feel due to the comments.

  30. Come clean Lucky, who was Johnny Mac’s love interest, you or Ford? She is obviously a woman scorned who can’t let go.

  31. Oh lucky us! Johnny Mac has shared yet again!!
    With any amount of luck he will take a flying leap into the east river and put us all out of our misery.
    Everyone say a prayer.

  32. I’ve occasionally experienced poor treatment from SW based on race as well, small things but noticeable in the way they talk to passengers during in flight service. I think it’s not the airline policy but comes down to individuals.

  33. Great post, Lucky. Spot on.

    @Dave C
    ‘Im not some enlightened, holier than thou world traveler.’

    Well at least you know.

  34. Utterly unsurprised that this was the case on WN.

    I’m a visibly Orthodox Jew, and was once made to feel uncomfortable on this basis by a flight attendant on a WN flight.

    I was more or less told to go suck an egg when I suggested that crewmembers be made to understand that not everybody is Christian.

  35. Lucky, your sentence in the last paragraph:
    “…to ensure everyone’s safety, though there’s a fine line between doing that and enabling racism..”
    hit the nail in the head!
    Well-said and well phrased! If this is not controlled soon, racism and social profiling will become the norm.

  36. Correction: racial (and not social) profiling is my intended word.
    Apologies for the mistake and double-posting.

  37. With a racist bigot leading the polls, and having a chance to be president, is it any surprise that more and more people are turning out the same way?

  38. @Dave C – you say you gave up some freedom to fly…… well these men had also went through security, just like you had. They had done everything that others had done. Not everyone in the whole world speaks English, nor do they have to! I love Southwest and am disappointed that they handled this, in this way. They should have told the person who was nervous that the men had been through security and were fine, just like them.

  39. @Dave C: ‘Im not some enlightened, holier than thou world traveler.’

    Maybe not, but you clearly do seem to be a bigot.

  40. American-Palestinian, so people of American descent that moved to Palestine? I think you mean Palestinian-American. 😉

  41. I guess everyone has forgotten what happened on Sept.11, 2001. All those cats were speaking Arabic. Maybe it isn’t bigotry, but understandable fear. In the current real world political correctness will get you killed.

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