Bad idea: kicking any Muslim person off a plane just for being Muslim. Worse idea: kicking a Muslim journalist with a large internet following off a plane just for being Muslim.
Niala Mohammad, a reporter for the U.S. government-funded outlet Voice of America, said via Facebook Wednesday that she, along with another Muslim woman who has chosen to remain anonymous, was kicked off an American Airlines flight at Miami International Airport August 2 before the plane took off.
Their "crime": making staff feel "unsafe" and "uncomfortable" for complaining that their flight had been delayed too long and that flight attendants hadn't given passengers enough food or water during what had grown into a five-hour delay.
But Mohammad said they were removed simply for being outspoken Muslim women, and she used her huge web presence earlier this week to fight the airline.
"When asked why we were being removed, we were informed that it was because [a flight attendant named] 'Rog' felt threatened by us," Mohammad wrote. "However, the white male passenger my friend was speaking to was ironically not removed from the plane with us."
Speaking with New Times, Florida's Council of American-Islamic Relations communications director Wilfredo Ruiz said the incident was upsetting.
"It's so sad to see racial profiling, and religious bias, used as basis to discriminate," he said. "It happened to them in Miami, but it’s happening nationwide."
According to Mohammad's post, she and her friend had been sitting on the runway waiting for their plane to depart for Washington, D.C., for more than five hours Tuesday night.
"A flight attendant informed us we were not allowed to purchase in-flight food unless we were in the air, and we were denied the right to deplane to get food or use the airport restrooms," she wrote. "Air fuel fumes also began to permeate the cabin space."
After Mohammad complained to a few folks seated near them, she said, a male flight attendant then walked by and said, "If you have a problem, you can get off the plane."
Mohammad's friend calmly replied and said, "I am just stating facts." Then the flight attendant told her he could "have her removed for instigating other passengers," she maintained.
After snapping a photo of the flight attendant in question — he was later identified as "'Rog,' as in 'Roger,'" — it appears the crew lost its cool. A customer-relations representative boarded the plane, escorted the two to the front, and forced them out of the cabin. Outside, a crew of air marshals stood waiting, apparently in case anything went awry.
Though the pair was placed on the next available flight and given a $200 American Airlines voucher and a $24 food voucher, Mohammad said that "the damage had already been done." Some free airline food was not about to make her forget what she believed was racism on behalf of American Airlines.
"This entire experience was not very 'American' of AA, and the incident demonstrated the ongoing, indiscrete racism that I was untouched by prior to 9/11," she wrote.
CAIR's Cleveland chapter told the Independent it had filed a complaint against American Airlines.
Airline spokesperson Alexis Coello instead told Buzzfeed the women were removed due to a "non-compliance issue."
Mohammad says this is untrue:
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Via phone, CAIR Florida's Ruiz told New Times he had reached out to the women involved but they declined any added help. Ruiz is now just concerned about how the incident will reflect on Miami.
"It's so sad to see, especially in an international airport in Miami," he said. "We receive people from the whole world in Miami, and that’s not the face we want to show people."
Additionally, he said he's flabbergasted that passengers would have been removed from the plane after passing through a security screening.
"These are people who were screened by the TSA," he said. "With just a minimum of questioning, any doubts the airline would have been cleared. We need to bring these events to public attention, because it appears that's the only way airlines won’t misuse their prerogative to take a passenger out of a plane."