Southwest Airlines is taking heat for removing a Muslim passenger wearing a hijab from the exit row while leaving her sister, who was not wearing a hijab, in the same row. Is this simply a case of unjustified discrimination or is there more to the story?
Southwest Airlines Muslim Discrimination – What Happened Onboard?
I’ve reported on discrimination against Muslim passengers for years on Live and Let’s Fly. In many cases, it is both unreasonable and indefensible. In this case, the following occurred onboard:
- Fatima Altakrouri and her sister were traveling from Ft. Lauderdale (FLL) to Dallas (DAL) on May 22nd on a Southwest Airlines flight
- Upon boarding, they found seats apart but later moved to two open seats next to each other in the exit row
- Altakrouri, who wears a hijab, was ordered by the flight attendant to move out of the exit row while her sister, who did not wear a hijab, was permitted to stay
- Both ended up moving
Altakrouri has filed a Department of Transportation Complaint and is exploring legal options with CAIR, the Council on American-Islamic Relations. In a press conference earlier this week, she explained what happened and claimed the flight attendant said she “couldn’t speak English and would bring the whole plane down in an emergency.”
Southwest Airlines isn’t providing any further detail right now:
Southwest neither condones nor tolerates discrimination of any kind. Since Southwest Airlines’ inception, we have put People first and maintain a mutual respect for our fellow Southwest Airlines Employees, our Customers, and the diverse communities that we serve. We apologize to any Customer who has a less than positive travel experience on Southwest and will look into the specific passenger situation referenced.
But a passenger on the flight reached out to Live and Let’s Fly and provided the following statement:
I was on the flight and these ladies are lying. After taking their exit row seats, a flight attendant approached them to perform a safety briefing. Upon completion, she asked the three exit row passengers, including the two women, whether they understood the instructions. The one wearing a hijab responded in Arabic. The flight attendant immediately asked the passenger to move and an argument ensued. She suddenly began speaking English, but the flight attendant was clearly skeptical that she would be willing to help in an emergency and it seemed the two were playing a game by deliberately looking for discrimination when there was not any present.
Take this with a grain of salt – the passenger refused to go on the record. Nevertheless, I share it with you because it is a plausible explanation for why a woman who clearly speaks very good English (see video above) may have been removed. Another very plausible explanation is that the flight attendant simply felt uncomfortable with the Muslim passenger, something that has happened often over the years.
I was once removed from an exit row on Avianca because my Spanish was not strong enough. The flight attendant felt I may be a hindrance not a help in case of emergency. Here, however, there is no dispute the passenger spoke English very well. The question is instead whether or not the initial conversation gave the flight attendant legitimate concern to move the passenger or whether it was simply unjustified prejudice.