Pair accuses Alaska Airlines of throwing them off the flight for texting and speaking in Arabic.
Two Sudanese-born American men claim in a lawsuit that Seattle-based Alaska Airlines removed and banned them from a recent flight to allay racist and xenophobic fears among other passengers.
They are suing the airline, alleging discrimination.
The suit, filed Tuesday in federal court in the Western District of Washington, alleges that Alaska Airlines humiliated and deprived Abobakkr Dirar and Mohamed Elamin of their rights as passengers by “exploiting the discredited Islamophobic, racist and xenophobic claim” of another person on the flight. .
According to the complaint, Abobakkr Dirar and Mohamed Elamin, who are black and Muslim, were seated in first class as the Seattle-San Francisco plane prepared for takeoff.
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A passenger seated next to Dirar in first class saw him texting in Arabic. The passenger, who did not speak or read Arabic, was alarmed by the messages and complained to a flight attendant before exiting the plane.
Lawyers allege airline employees then engaged in “security theatre” by removing Dirar and Elamin from the plane.
An Alaska Airlines official who spoke Arabic read Dirar’s texts and found them “harmless”. However, the airline still called agents from the FBI and Port of Seattle Police to the scene.
“Alaska Airlines could have chosen at that time not to listen to a passenger’s complaint, but they did,” said Katie Walker, spokeswoman for the Washington State Chapter of the Board of Trustees. American-Islamic Relations, which represents Dirar and Elamin.
The lawsuit says the men, both US citizens, were barred from flying together on the Alaskan flights they had already booked, causing them to board different flights in Alaska and arrive hours late. to their destination.
They were also forced to go through airport screening again, with Elamin downgraded to a coach seat, according to the lawsuit.
In a statement, Alaska Airlines said it could not share details of the incident as the matter is pending.
“Alaska Airlines strictly prohibits unlawful discrimination. We take these complaints very seriously,” the company said in a statement Tuesday. “Our greatest responsibility is to ensure that our flight operations are safe – every day.”
Lawyers said the incident reflects a pattern of xenophobia and Islamophobia that Muslim and Middle Eastern passengers experience in flight.
“Flying as a Muslim has been a very real phenomenon for far too long,” CAIR-WA executive director Imraan Siddiqi said in a statement. “This incident with Alaska Airlines is one of the most egregious examples of what has happened in recent years.”
According to the lawsuit, Dirar and Elamin were “too humiliated and traumatized” by the incident to enjoy their trip to San Francisco.
“When we traveled that day, we were not treated the same as others, and that made me feel like I was not equal to others,” Dirar said in a statement. “I don’t want this to happen again, to anyone, Muslim or non-Muslim.”