A student was reportedly punished for flying while Muslim, reports NY Daily News.
UC Berkeley student Khairuldeen Makhzoomi says he was booted from a Southwest Airlines flight after a passenger heard him speaking Arabic – and reported him as a possible safety threat.
“I was so afraid. I was so scared,” Makhzoomi told the Daily Californian.“I don’t want money,” Makhzoomi continued. “I don’t care about that. All I want is an apology.”
Southwest has yet to offer an apology, but the company has acknowledged the incident.
According to NY Daily News, Makhzoomi was supposed to fly from Los Angeles to Oakland on April 6, expecting to get there in time for class. The day before, he attended the Los Angeles World Affairs Council, with Secretary-General of the United Nations Ban Ki-moon.
Before his flight took off, Makhzoomi called his uncle and spoke to him in Arabic, ending the conversation with “Inshallah” – a phrase meaning, “If God is willing.”
Shortly after hanging up, he said he noticed a female passenger staring at him. She then got up and spoke with someone on staff, and just moments later, an airline employee removed Makhzoomi from the plane.
Makhzoomi said FBI officers and airline security searched and questioned him, while onlookers stood watching. Authorities inquired about his family, his travel plans, and whether or not he was hiding a weapon while searching his genital area.
“That is when I couldn’t handle it and my eyes began to water,” Makhzoomi told the Daily Californian.
“The way they searched me and the dogs, the officers, people were watching me and the humiliation made me so afraid because it brought all of these memories back to me.”
According to NY Daily News, Makhzoomi, 26, fled Iraq in 2002 after his father, who was an Iraqi diplomat, was killed under Saddam Hussein’s regime. His family was granted asylum in the United States.
A Southwest Airlines statement claimed that crew members decided to “investigate potentially threatening comments made onboard our aircraft” and has “made the decision to deny boarding to this customer.”
It is not the company’s policy to “publicly share specifics of the event,” the statement said, continuing, “We regret any less than positive experience onboard our aircraft … Southwest neither condones nor tolerates discrimination of any kind.”
The airline gave Makhzoomi a refund and had him on board another flight hours later.
The FBI also acknowledged its involvement in the incident, but has declined to comment.
“We were asked to respond, and we determined no further action was necessary,” spokeswoman Ari DeKofsky told SFGate.
Southwest’s entire statement can be found below.
“Prior to gate departure of Flight 4260, our Flight Crew decided to investigate potentially threatening comments made onboard our aircraft. Based upon the reported comments and further discussion, our Flight Crew made the decision to deny boarding to this Customer. We understand local law enforcement spoke with that Passenger at a later time. To respect the privacy of those involved, our policy is to not publicly share specifics of the event, as we try to work with individual passengers to address concerns or feedback regarding their experience. We regret any less than positive experience onboard our aircraft.
“Southwest Employees welcome onboard hundreds of millions of Customers each year. We wouldn’t remove passengers from flights without a collaborative decision rooted in established procedures. We aim to safely transport every Customer while maintaining the comfort of all. Southwest neither condones nor tolerates discrimination of any kind.”