Southwest Kicks Muslim Woman off Flight With No Credible Explanation

Maryland resident Hakima Abdulle had been hoping to take a connecting Southwest flight from Chicago to Seattle on Wednesday to assist a pregnant family member with her delivery. However, before her flight left the tarmac, Abdulle was allegedly kicked off the plane by an attendant who offered no adequate explanation.


Abdulle, who is of Somali descent and was wearing a hijab at the time, says she was booted shortly after she asked another passenger to trade seats with her, a common practice on an airline that doesn’t assign seating. The attendant reportedly told police she decided to remove Abdulle because she “did not feel comfortable.” Abdulle, who speaks little English, was forced to wait hours for a later flight.

The civil rights group Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) is calling for an investigation into a “possible bias motive.” Abdulle and her husband, Abukar Fidaw, are demanding an in-person apology, as well as reimbursement for the flight and diversity training for the airline.

Southwest is denying any wrongdoing, with spokesperson Brandy King telling the Baltimore Sun that “employees followed proper procedures.” However, CAIR-Maryland spokeswoman Zainab Chaudry told AlterNet that the company told the organization’s attorney on Friday that it is conducting an internal investigation and will get back in 30 days.

Chaudry noted that Southwest has shown little accountability so far, amid a rash of other incidents of apparent discrimination against Arabic-speaking and Muslim passengers. Many took to social media this weekend to argue for a boycott of the airline, whose slogan is, “You're now free to move about the country.”

Earlier this month, Southwest stirred outrage when it forcibly removed UC Berkeley senior Khairuldeen Makhzoomi from a Los Angeles to Oakland flight after a fellow passenger overheard him speaking in Arabic to his uncle in Baghdad.

Makhzoomi, who had just attended a speech by United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, later explained, “I was very excited about the event so I called my uncle to tell him about it.” Throughout the course of the conversation, Makhzoomi spoke the common Arabic phrase inshallah, or “if God wills it.” He was reported to a flight attendant, who asked him “Why are you speaking Arabic on a plane?” before kicking him off.

Makhzoomi, who is a refugee, told the New York Times, “My family and I have been through a lot and this is just another one of the experiences I have had. Human dignity is the most valuable thing in the world, not money. If they apologized, maybe it would teach them to treat people equally.”

These recent cases appear to be part of a larger pattern. Last November, Southwest employees allowed passengers to boot Arabic-speaking and Muslim passengers from two separate flights. In one instance, Maher Khalil, a 29-year-old Palestinian-American, called 911 to request help against racial profiling.

“We've definitely seen an uptick in these kinds of incidents. At what point do we sit back and say this is getting out of hand?” asked Chaudry, who noted that the problem is not limited to one airline. “Southwest is probably the worst offender, but other airlines across the board are also discriminating,” she said.

In late March, a Chicago Muslim family was asked by United Airlines employees to deplane from a Washington-bound flight after they requested help securing a booster seat for one of their children. After the pilot cited “safety concerns” when kicking them off, the mother, Eaman-Amy Saad Shebley, wrote an angry Facebook post that has been shared over 50,000 times.

“Shame on you ‪#‎unitedAirlines for profiling my family and me for no reason other than how we look and kicking us off the plane for ‘safety flight issues’ on our flight to DC for the kids spring break,” she declared. “My three kids are too young to have experienced this.”

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