Muslim Woman Says Southwest Airlines Discriminated Against Her For Wearing A Hijab
Photo Credit: Ono Kosuki

Photo Credit: Ono Kosuki

Muslim Woman Says Southwest Airlines Discriminated Against Her For Wearing A Hijab

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Stephanie Ogbogu
Stephanie Ogbogu Jun 3, 2021

A Muslim-American woman has filed a complaint against Southwest Airlines for allegedly discriminating against her due to her Islamic faith.

Southwest Airlines has an open seating policy, which means they do not assign seats ahead of time and, upon boarding the plane, customers can choose to sit anywhere they’d like. Fatima Altakrouri, a health clinic operations manager who was born and raised in the United States, says she was prohibited from taking a seat in the exit row and believes it was because she was wearing a hijab.

The incident occurred on May 22. Altakrouri and her sister, Muna Kowni, were boarding a flight from Ft. Lauderdale, FL to Dallas, TX. The pair took the last two seats that were available next to each other in the emergency exit row when Fatima was asked to switch seats. According to Fatima, the flight attendant told them that she could not sit in the exit row because she couldn’t speak English, despite the fact they were communicating to one another perfectly fine in English. Fatima even recalls overhearing a flight attendant telling nearby passengers that Fatima would “bring down the plane” in an emergency because she does not speak English.

“As I was walking, I overheard her saying to the passengers in the seats that were around that area, laughing, saying that ‘If we sat her there, she’d bring down the plane in an emergency,” Altakrouri said during a news conference. “You can imagine the shock I was in at that time.”

She added, “To me, that made me look like I am some kind of a terrorist. I am not.”

Altakrouri’s sister, Muna Kowni, was not wearing a hijab during the incident and was allowed to sit in the exit row. However, she declined to stay and the sisters were moved to two different seats that were apart from one another.

muslim sisters
Muna Kowni and Fatima Altakrouri

“I think the hardest part is when you actually have to get insulted and you have to stay quiet for three hours straight and not say a word,” Kowni said.

“There was no valid basis that Fatima does not speak English,” Altakrouri’s attorney Marwa Elbially said. “The refusal to seat Fatima in that seat was discrimination on the basis of religion.”

During the conference, both Kowni and Altakrouri expressed how shocked and saddened they were, adding that they were most hurt that none of the passengers stood up for them while all of the situation was unfolding.

“The fact that nobody said anything just makes me think what is our country coming to? Why are we not defending one another?” Altakrouri said.  “I have a right to be on this plane just as much as anyone else does.”

Once the sisters landed at Love Field Airport in Dallas, Fatima Altakrouri filed a complaint with Southwest and the U.S. Department of Transportation.

The company tells USA Today:

“Our internal reports from the flight do not support claims made by the passenger regarding comments or decisions being made based upon appearance. The safety of our passengers is paramount, and individuals seated in an exit row are required to verbally indicate that they can perform certain duties in flight. Our Crew is responsible for getting that confirmation from a passenger before seating them in an overwing exit row and was unable to gain acknowledgment from the passenger during boarding. Therefore, as a courtesy, the Crew offered her an alternate seat.”

Southwest Airlines