Photo Credit: Alaska Airlines
Black Muslim Men Sue Alaska Airlines After Being Kicked Off Flight For Speaking And Texting In Arabic
In 2020, two Black Muslim men were removed from an Alaska Airlines flight after a passenger complained about them speaking and texting in Arabic, assuming that they were representing a threat on the flight. Now, Abobakkr Dirar and Mohamed Elamin are suing Alaska Airlines on the basis of racial discrimination and violation of civil rights.
Dirar and Elamin, both Sudan-born citizens of the US, were flying from Seattle to San Francisco, making small talk in Arabic, a language widely spoken in Sudan. Dirar used Arabic text while sending messages to a friend who was not on the plane. That’s when a passenger, who was sitting next to Dirar, saw his phone and called a flight attendant to make a complaint. The passenger, whose name was not revealed, did not speak Arabic, according to The Seattle Times.
The two were then kicked off the flight by the Alaska Airlines manager, who said that they had a “ticket issue.” However, lawyers allege that airline employees engaged in “security theater” by kicking the two men off the plane.
In an interview with NBC, Luis Segura, a lawyer with the Council on American-Islamic Relations, which is representing the Black Muslim men, said that an Arabic-speaking manager at the airline reviewed the text messages and deemed them non-threatening.
Even though the text messages did not represent a threat, airline crew members decided to remove Dirar, Elamin, and everyone else from the plane for additional security screening.
After that, Alaska Airlines did not allow Dirar and Elamin back on the flight, and booked them on later flights, prohibiting them from flying together. This situation made them arrive hours later than their original flight to San Francisco.
“You can hear in their voices now when you speak to them that it was traumatic for them. What they want is to be heard,” Segura told NBC.
“Alaska Airlines strictly prohibits unlawful discrimination. We take such complaints very seriously,” the company said in a statement Tuesday. “Our greatest responsibility is to ensure that our flight operations are safe — every day.”
Incidents like those faced by Dirar and Elamin reflect a pattern of xenophobia and Islamophobia that Muslim and Middle Eastern passengers experience while flying. Since 9/11, some Muslim travelers have faced issues related to racial profiling and religious discrimination on flights.
In 2019, two Muslim men filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Transportation against American Airlines after they were racially profiled. They said the Fort Worth-based airline crew members canceled their flight because they “didn’t feel comfortable” flying with the pair.
In 2021, a Muslim-American woman filed a complaint against Southwest Airlines for allegedly discriminating against her for wearing a hijab.