Nine Muslims File Discrimination Suit Against AirTran

Nine Muslims from the Washington, DC area have sued AirTrain Airways, alleging the airline discriminated against the group by removing them from a flight in January, 2009 and then refused to rebook their flight.

The incident in question happened on January 1st, 2009 on a flight out of Reagan National Airport when two teenage girls overheard what they thought was a "suspicious remark," according to an earlier report by The Washington Post released January 2009.

The party, including three young children, was headed to a religious retreat in Florida. The FBI cleared them for travel, characterizing the incident as a "misunderstanding," but the group was forced to pay for new seats on another carrier after AirTran refused to rebook them.

As a result of the incident, the entire plane was emptied and all 104 passengers and their luggage had to be re-screened. When the plane finally took off for Orlando, it had been delayed two hours.

The plaintiffs in the case are the brothers Kashif Irfan of Alexandria and Atif Irfan of Rockville; the brother's families; and a mutual friend, Abdul Razak Aziz of Washington DC.

According to Irfan, the incident happened after his brother and his brother's wife were wondering aloud about the safest place to sit on the airplane.

"My brother and his wife were discussing some aspect of airport security," Irfan said to The Washington Post in January 2009. "The only thing my brother said was, 'Wow, the jets are right next to my window.' I think they were remarking about safety."

Irfan also commented that he believed the group was profiled because of their appearance. All six of the adults in the group were dressed in traditional Muslim clothes, with the men donning beards and the women wrapped in headscarves. The party was also traveling with Irfan's three sons, aged 7, 4 and 2.

"It was an ordeal," said the family friend Razak Aziz to The Washington Post. "Nothing came out of it. It was paranoid people. It was very sad."

Previously, AirTran spokesman Tad Hutcheson agreed the incident was a misunderstanding, but defended the carrier's handling of the incident.

"At the end of the day, people got on and made comments they shouldn't have made on the airplane, and other people heard them," Hutcheson said to The Washington Post. "Other people heard them, misconstrued them. It just so happened these people were of Muslim faith and appearance. It escalated, it got out of hand and everyone took precautions."

Hutcheson said the party was given a full refund of their AirTran fares and is allowed to fly on the carrier now that the investigation is complete. He said the airline would not reimburse the passengers for their replacement ticket on USAirways, tickets that the plaintiffs said had to be purchased with aid from the FBI.

According to a report released today by The Washington Post, AirTran said in a statement the company "denies liability and looks forward to vigorously defending ourselves in court."

Photo by
PhillipC on flickr.

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