Muslim woman removed from flight after security heard her say ‘It’s a go’ on her phone
By LEE MORAN
A Muslim-American woman was removed from an aeroplane as it prepared for take off – after a flight attendant told security staff she heard her say ‘It’s a go’ into her mobile phone.
But U.S. citizen Irum Abbassi, who was travelling out of San Diego’s International Airport, claims she actually said ‘I’ve got to go’.
The mother-of-three was quickly searched and then made her way back to the flight – but the aeroplane’s crew refused to allow her back on board.
She then took the next flight – and is now suing Southwest Airlines for the ‘humiliating’ incident.
The psychology graduate student at San Jose State University filed the lawsuit in federal court in San Diego.
Her lawyer James McElroy said: ‘Suspicions were aroused because of her religion. She would not have been removed from the plane if she had been a blond-haired, blue-eyed woman.”
Abbasi was taken off the San Jose-bound flight in March. The lawsuit said she felt ‘horrified, embarrassed, humiliated and confused’ by the incident.
Abbasi claims she had said ‘I have to go’ to a Verizon representative because the aeroplane was about to depart.
Abbasi was searched by Transportation Security Administration (TSA) staff and given clearance to reboard the flight within three minutes.
But the pilot claimed the crew was uncomfortable flying with her and refused to allow her aboard.
She was given an apology, a voucher and a boarding pass for the next San Jose flight.
It meant she missed a critical research experiment that she needed to be able to complete for her graduate studies, the lawsuit added.
Chris Mainz, spokesman for Dallas-based Southwest Airlines, said the company apologised to Abbasi for her inconvenience and her concerns were addressed ‘in good faith’.
He added: ‘In this case, our employees raised a safety concern based on the customer’s behaviour, and we had a duty to thoroughly address those concerns before clearing the customer to travel.
‘We have a vast, diverse workforce, and we celebrate diversity among our employees and our customers.
‘We do not discriminate against anyone for any reason, and we’ve been recognized as a leader for our diversity and care for all of our customers throughout our 40 years of service.’
In the past Southwest has received widespread notoriety for removing passengers.
In September the airline booted off a female couple who kissed during a flight.
Earlier this year it also removed Green Day singer Billy Joe Armstrong and a University of New Mexico football player for wearing trousers that were too baggy.
Abbassi is asking for punitive damages for discrimination based on race, religion, colour, ethnicity, alienage, ancestry, and/or national origin, breach of contract, negligence, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
University of Southern California counter-terrorism Professor Seth Stodder said discrimination laws for airline passengers are weighed against security concerns and sometimes just gut-level fear.
He told KPBS: ‘It’s a hard balance to draw when you’re dealing with a pilot who is making a decision based on his assessment of the safety of the passengers of the plane.
‘There is no clear law. It’s one of those issues that hasn’t really been adequately litigated.’
Edgar Hopida, spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, agreed that a balance had to be struck.
But he said it had to include an understanding that Muslims were also travellers who wanted to get to their destinations safely.
He said: ‘We’re all about security because we’re Americans too and we travel on the same aeroplanes as everyone else.’
And he warned that, in the future, more people would be removed from airlines if flight attendants and other crew members were not reminded of that message.