We have another shocking case involving a passenger who was removed from a flight because his presence made other passengers nervous.
The student, Khairuldeen Makhzoomi, a senior at the University of California, Berkeley, was merely speaking in Arabic to his uncle in Iraq and recounting an exciting speech that he attended by United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon. After his call, he was told that he was making passengers nervous by speaking in Arabic and removed from the flight.
The 26-year-old college student is an Iraqi refugee and said that he noticed a woman glaring at him on the Southwest flight. The woman went to the flight crew and an Arabic-speaking Southwest Airlines employee reportedly asked him “Why were you speaking Arabic in the plane?”
Southwest gave a non-answer to media inquiries, saying “we regret any less than positive experience a customer has onboard our aircraft. Southwest neither condones nor tolerates discrimination of any kind.” Well, if this account is true, it would seem like that is a tolerance of such discrimination if a single passenger can throw another passenger off the plane because she does not feel comfortable with a passenger speaking Arabic.
Worst yet, according to Makhzoomi, he was brought into the terminal and searched in front of a crowd of onlookers while half a dozen police officers, including one with a dog, stood watch. He was then interrogated into a room by three agents. He said that the passenger reported that he was speaking about martyrdom in Arabic, using a phrase often associated with jihadists. The FBI then cleared him to take another flight.
Obviously, it is unlikely that a real terrorist would chat away at the gate in Arabic about martyrdom as he waited to take off. Moreover, unless this woman spoke Arabic, it is not clear what word she believed is used by terrorists or her ability to make such a determination. Yet, she was able to have the student tossed from the flight.
My greatest concern is the lack of any cognizable or consistent standard in such cases. We have seen passengers refuse to allow a plane to take off while praying in the aisles without being removed from a flight. Yet, a call in Arabic seems enough if this account is accurate. There seems a legitimate question of equal treatment and due process for Muslim and Arab passengers in such cases.
What do you think?