Muslim Father and Son Removed From Flight Because Attendant Felt ‘Uncomfortable’
Posted Mar 16, 2006

Civil rights group demands full investigation, civil rights training

The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights today asked the U.S. Department of Transportation to investigate a recent incident of racial profiling on board UA flight 6501, operated by United Express/SkyWest Airlines, and to take action against the airlines. Two Muslim men of South Asian descent were removed from the flight simply because their presence made a flight attendant uncomfortable, and despite the fact that they posed no security risk. SEE:

On January 31, 2006, Mohammed Khan and his father, Fazal Khan, had boarded their flight from Los Angeles to Oakland and were waiting for the plane to take off. Both men wore traditional South Asian tunics and white skullcaps, and both had long beards. After the flight was delayed an hour on the runway, a customer service representative boarded the plane and told the Khans that they would have to leave the aircraft to discuss something inside the terminal. There, the representative informed the men that they could not remain on the flight because their presence made the flight attendant uncomfortable. She found them seats on a different flight that departed two hours later.

The circumstances make it abundantly clear that no security rationale existed for the Khans’ removal. The airline even left the men’s checked luggage on board the original flight, which took off shortly after the Khans were removed. In addition, when the Khans protested to the customer service representative that they had done nothing wrong, the representative did not deny their claim or state that their behavior was suspicious, but only repeated that the flight attendant was not comfortable with them on board. Moreover, the Khans were not questioned or searched before they boarded the second flight, and to their knowledge, no airport security official was even informed of their removal.

“We were humiliated in front of people for no reason at all,” said Mohammed Khan. “Everyone who saw us taken off the flight will now think it’s OK to look down on anyone who looks like us.”

“Since this incident, when we leave the house to go shopping or to the hospital or even when we are driving, we worry how people will treat us because of how we look. The humiliation we felt will remain with us for a very long time,” Khan added.

“Racial stereotypes must never be the basis for a decision to remove someone from an airplane,” said attorney Shirin Sinnar of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights. “In the months after 9/11, South Asian or Middle Eastern passengers were removed from flights numerous times based purely on prejudice. Many Americans will be surprised to realize that this kind of discrimination is still occurring.” Sinnar also noted that United Air Lines was already required by the Department of Transportation to provide annual civil rights training to employees because the airline had discriminated against Arab, Middle Eastern, South Asian, or Muslim passengers after 9/11.

In addition to a full investigation of the incident, the Lawyers’ Committee is asking United and SkyWest Airlines to change their policies to prevent such discrimination from occurring again, to implement renewed civil rights training for their employees, and to compensate the two men for the pain they experienced.