A Muslim woman was asked to get off a plane without any explanation after she asked her neighbour to switch seats.
The Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) has called for an investigation of a possible “bias motive” as the woman was of Somali descent and was wearing a headscarf.
Hakima Abdulle was told to disembark a Southwest Airlines plane at a Chicago airport after she asked the man next to her whether she could move to the aisle seat, and he had agreed.
She was traveling alone on a connecting flight to help a pregnant family member in Seattle, according to Zainab Chaudry, the Maryland Outreach Manager at CAIR.
A flight attendant then approached Ms Abdulle and said they were not allowed to swap seats, despite the airline’s policy of unassigned seating.
Ms Abdulle asked why she could not switch. The flight attendant did not adequately respond and asked her to get off the plane.
When police asked the flight attendant at the gate if there was any reason why Ms Abdulle had been taken off the plane, the flight attendant replied “No” and that she “not feel comfortable” with the passenger.
Ms Abdulle asked to speak to a supervisor and was rebooked on a flight to Seattle several hours later.
“She suffered acute distress and anxiety as a result of this experience. She was publicly humiliated before a plane full of passengers,” said Ms Chaudry, who has called for an investigation and a formal apology by Southwest Airlines and to reimburse Ms Abdulle's airfare.
Her husband, Abukar Fadaw, who spoke on his wife’s behalf at a press conference to discuss the incident while Ms Abdulle was in Seattle, said his wife became upset.
“She was crying in front of everybody,” he said.
He asked the flight attendant over the phone to explain why his wife was being escorted off the plane as she spoke limited English.
“They ignored me,” he said.
The couple’s lawyer, William Burgess, said it is a violation of federal law for an airline to discriminate against passengers on the basis of religion - yet he said he has received about half a dozen similar reports from Muslims this year alone.
A statement from Southwest Airlines read: "Information available, collected at the time of the event, indicates that our employees followed proper procedures in response to this customer's actions while onboard the aircraft. Out of respect for the customer's privacy, we will not share specifics about her conduct or travel experience.
It continued: "We are not in the business of removing passengers from flights without reason, our goal is to get each one of our Customers to their final destination safely. We are responsible for the comfort of all passengers and do not tolerate discrimination of any kind."
Ms Chaudry added the incident was part of “an alarming trend”.
Last month a Muslim couple and their three children were asked to leave a United Airlines plane at Chicago airport after the pilot cited “safety issues”.
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