Amani Al-Khatahtbeh, a writer, media figure and the first Muslim woman to run for Congress in New Jersey, was arrested Saturday after boarding a flight at Newark Liberty International Airport. She claimed she was unfairly singled out in the incident due to her religion.
“Simply flying as a Muslim woman makes people uncomfortable…. unbelievable,” Al-Khatahtbeh wrote on Twitter.
Al-Khatahtbeh had boarded an American Airlines flight bound for Charlotte, N.C., when she removed from the plane and detained. American Airlines said it was investigating the removal, which stemmed from a dispute between Al-Khatahtbeh and another passenger that began as they were passing through security screening and continued once they were flight, which was scheduled to leave just before 10 a.m.
“I had the craziest experience in TSA this morning,” Al-Khatahtbeh tweeted. “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.’”
American Airlines said it was interviewing crew members, other passengers and witnesses at the security checkpoint to determine the circumstances. The airlines has also requested video footage from the terminal.
“Our understanding is that Ms. Al-Khatahtbeh believed the other passenger, who is enrolled in PreCheck, was getting favorable treatment because he was allowed to proceed through security while she was removing her shoes,” Andrew Trull, a spokesperson for the airline, said in a statement. “This led to a verbal altercation that continued through the terminal and on the plane where Ms. Al-Khatahtbeh confronted the passenger and began filming him before taking her seat.”
Al-Khatahtbeh was charged with delaying transportation and defiant trespass for refusing to leave the plane, and was later released, the New York Daily News reported.
Trull said that initial witness accounts indicate the conflict between Al-Khatahtbeh and the other passenger began at the checkpoint.
“We are concerned by these allegations and our team is actively working to learn more about what occurred,” Trull said.
Al-Khatahtbeh grew up East Brunswick and graduated from Rutgers University. She is the founder of the blog MuslimGirl.com and author of the book “Muslim Girl: A Coming of Age.” This year, she mounted an unsuccessful primary challenge of Democratic Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. in New Jersey’s 6th District, becoming the first Muslim woman to run for Congress in New Jersey.
Al-Khatahtbeh wrote the man had her removed from the plane because “he felt uncomfortable” and she called the treatment she received “draining and traumatizing.” She did not return a request for comment Saturday.
On Facebook Live, Al-Khatahtbeh recorded a 15-minute video from her seat on the plane as she was asked to disembark by Port Authority police, and she refused unless the male passenger was also removed. The plane was cleared of all of its passengers, and as they filed past her to deboard, some expressed sympathy and others said she was at fault.
“I don’t want to leave this flight unless the other man leaves this flight,” Al-Khatahtbeh said on the video.
The recording ended when she exited the plane and was taken into custody.
“You’re under arrest,” a voice could be heard saying.
“I’m under arrest? For what? For what?” she asked.
The New Jersey chapter of the Council for American-Islamic Relations said Al-Khatahtbeh was held for nearly four hours before she was released. The council expressed concern over her treatment and called on American Airlines to take action to “right the situation and prevent another repeat.”
“Traveling while Muslim should not be a traumatic experience,” CAIR-NJ executive director Selaedin Maksut wrote on Twitter.
American Airlines said it had reached out to CAIR-NJ to brief the organization on the investigation.
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Riley Yates may be reached at [email protected].