A British journalist accused a Southwest Airlines flight attendant of targeting his Muslim wife after she asked a passenger if they could swap seats.
Last Monday, Mehdi Hasan, a columnist at The Intercept, which is based in Washington, D.C., took to Twitter to call out an unnamed flight attendant for threatening to kick his wife off a flight from Houston to D.C.
"Hey @SouthwestAir: not a good look for your flight attendant on SW5539 to DC last night to loudly tell a brown woman in a headscarf she'll be 'escorted off the plane' for making people feel 'uncomfortable' - because she wanted to sit with her husband & kids! #flyingwhileMuslim" he wrote in a series of tweets.
The flight attendant reportedly called ground staff to address the situation, although Hasan said the staff was unsure as to why the attendant wouldn't let the issue go. The journalist also added that multiple passengers were also confused by the incident and chose to side with the family.
"The @SouthwestAir flight attendant 'treated you like a venomous snake,' another passenger told my wife after we landed in DC last night,' Hasan continued in a later tweet.
The incident left Hasan's wife unsettled, he wrote.
"Thanks @SouthwestAir for ruining the end of our Thanksgiving trip and leaving my wife in tears - because she wanted us all to sit together as a family while your flight attendant wanted to single her out and humiliate her," he tweeted. "Thanks a lot."
The columnist ended his thread with a link to a scathing Guardian story on Southwest's treatment of Middle Eastern passengers.
Hasan's tweets immediately went viral. His first tweet received nearly 14,000 likes and approximately 1,000 replies from users who condemned the airline for the treatment his wife allegedly received.
"Hey @SouthwestAir, I fly with you ALL the time (including today!)," one person wrote. "Are you ok bigots as employees? What kind of training do they have? Are there any consequences for above actions? I promise you I will not be buying another SW ticket until you adequately address this issue."
"So sorry your family went through this," political activist Wardah Khalid also tweeted. "Absolutely unacceptable. Hope to see some change but unfortunately #flyingwhileMuslim seems to be a problem with every airline."
In a statement to the Sun three days later, on Dec. 5, a spokesperson for Southwest Airlines acknowledged Hasan's complaint.
"Once we learned about the customer’s social media message, we began to research the flight and gather information internally," the spokesperson said. "We also reached out to the Customer directly to discuss his Family’s experience prior to departure."
The spokesperson added that, from the company's initial discussions, it appeared as if several passengers had disagreed about seat selection — something that the passengers themselves are responsible for when they board the flight.
"The flight crew requested a customer service supervisor come onboard to help address the situation and the conversation was resolved before the plane left the gate," the spokesperson said. "The family was able to sit together and the flight arrived safely in Washington, D.C. on Sunday night. We remain in communication with the customer who sent the tweet and are working to address his concerns directly."
That same day, Hasan fired back, claiming that the airline had described the situation incorrectly and placing blame squarely on the flight attendant. He also said that the company apologized to him privately but did not do so publicly.
"I'm now more furious than I was on Sunday," he tweeted. "Then it was a rude and racist flight attendant. Now it's an entire airline, an entire company, that seems unconcerned by, even maybe covering up, racism and harassment onboard. Shame on you @southwestAir."
In The Know reached out to Southwest for further comment but did not hear back.