Two Muslim men say they have been waiting for nearly a year for an apology from Alaska Airlines for being publicly humiliated and having their civil rights violated when they were ejected from a flight for sending text messages in Arabic.
The two passengers, identified only by their first names as Abobakkr and Mohamed, spoke out about the February 2020 incident on Monday during a video press conference organized by the Washington state chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).
‘Imagine being innocent, and then suddenly you became accused of being criminal,’ said Abobakkr, as KIRO7 reported.
Two passengers, identified as Abobakkr (left) and Mohamed (right), were flying first-class abroad an Alaska Airlines flight from Seattle to San Francisco in February when they say they were deplaned for sending text messages in Arabic
A passenger on board the Alaska Airlines flight, who did not speak Arabic, reported Abobakkr’s message to a friend as suspicious (stock image)
The airline deplaned the entire plane at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (pictured) and subjected everyone to another security screening
CAIR representatives described what happened to the two men on board the Alaska Airlines flight from Seattle to San Francisco as another egregious example of ‘flying while Muslim.’
According to the Muslim advocacy group, Abobakkr and Mohamed, who are both American citizens of Sudanese descent, on February 17, 2020, boarded the flight at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport to go on a business trip.
While waiting in their first-class seats for the plane to take off, Abobakkr exchanged a few text messages with a friend in Arabic.
A fellow passenger, who CAIR said did not speak or read Arabic, and could identify only a few emojis and numerals on Abobakkr’s phone screen, reported these texts to a flight attendant as suspicious.
Because of the complaint, the flight was delayed, and Abobakkr and Mohamed were removed from the plane and questioned.
Abobakkr and Mohamed were questioned by the FBI and TSA in front of other passengers at the airport (stock photo)
An Alaska Airlines representative translated the messages into English, and a Port of Seattle Police Officer noted in a police report that an Alaska representative acknowledged ‘there was no threat of any kind.’
One of the messages read,’Peace be upon you, [C]aptain,’ which was followed by an exchange of pleasantries and a seemingly innocuous chat about photos.
‘After it was determined that there was absolutely no security threat, Alaska Airlines chose to take several humiliating and distressing steps against Abobakkr and Mohamed,’ CAIR wrote in a press release.
‘The most embarrassing thing was when the agent came in to aircraft and had us stand up to leave with our bags. Everyone saw us as we were being removed,’ Mohamad said during the press conference.
The airline then deplaned all passengers on the flight and subjected them to another security screening, while Abobakkr and Mohamed were being questioned by FBI and TSA agents in full view of their fellow travelers.
After being cleared by the authorities, Abobakkr and Mohamed were not allowed to re-board their original flight, and instead they were re-booked on two separate flights
Officials also used a K-9 unit to re-screen all cargo, and even had the first-class bathroom tanks emptied because of the Muslim men had used the facilities.
After Abobakkr and Mohamed were cleared by the authorities, they said the airline did not allow them to re-board their original flight and would not allow them to continue their trip together insteading re-booking them onto two later, separate flights.
CAIR stated that by the time the men arrived at their destination, they had been ‘too traumatized to benefit from any part of their trip.’
‘When we travel that day, we are not greeted the same as other people,’ Abobakkr said on the video call. ‘It make me feel little and make me feel like I was not equal to other people. I don’t want this to happen again.’
Finally, Alaska Airlines did not allow Mohamed and Abobakkr to reboard their original flight and would not allow them to continue their trip together, instead rebooking them onto later, separate, flights, which brought them to San Francisco too late to complete their itinerary, and too traumatized to benefit from any part of their trip.
Imraan Siddiqi, executive director of the Washington state chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, called the incident ‘just the latest in a pattern of Muslims being unfairly singled-out by airline companies’
“This disturbing incident is just the latest in a pattern of Muslims being unfairly singled-out by airline companies. ‘Flying while Muslim’ has now become a globally recognized phenomenon of suspicion and humiliation, and this phenomenon must come to a stop. We call on Alaska Airlines to address the mistreatment of these men once and for all,” said Imraan Siddiqi, Executive Director of CAIR-WA.
Abobakkr said, “I will go to the end of this process because I want the airlines to stop doing this to any person. We are speaking up not just for Muslim people but for any person, whoever it is.”
Brianna Auffray, CAIR-WA’s attorney, explained that when the incident first happened 110 months ago, Abobakkr and Mohamed expected that the airline would give them refunds from the botched trip and apologize, so they chose to not go public right away.
‘All they really wanted was a sincere apology and assurances that this would not happen to anyone else. Had they received that, we wouldn’t be coming forward now,’ Auffry said. ‘But they didn’t, and then COVID-19 hit. With airlines being an industry so hard-hit by the pandemic, our clients didn’t want to cause Alaska Airlines additional harm by going public at that time.
‘But now that the vaccine has been approved and people will inevitably get back to traveling, it has become more important than ever that we get assurances that Alaska will not treat any other Muslim travelers the way they treated our clients. That’s why we’re coming forward with their story now.’
Imraan Siddiqi, executive director of CAIR-WA, characterized the incident as ‘just the latest in a pattern of Muslims being unfairly singled-out by airline companies.’
Alaska Airlines has released a statement, acknowledging the February incident and apologizing to the two Muslim men for what it called a ‘distressing experience.’
‘Alaska Airlines strictly prohibits unlawful discrimination, and we take such complaints very seriously,’ the statement reads. ‘Our greatest responsibility is to ensure that our flight operations are safe, and that was our goal on February 17th, as it is every day. We have launched an internal investigation of the incident to determine whether there were any missteps on our part, and are in contact with CAIR and the two guests.’
CAIR-WA initially planned to file a lawsuit against Alaska Airlines on Monday, but after being contacted by airline representatives on Friday, the advocacy group would like to settle the matter out of court.