SAN DIEGO (AP) — A Muslim woman said Wednesday that she wants a Southwest Airlines crew disciplined for removing her from a flight for wearing a headscarf.
Irum Abbasi, 31, told reporters at a news conference outside San Diego’s airport that she was forced off a San Jose-bound flight in San Diego on Sunday because a flight attendant found her to be suspicious.
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Abbasi attributed her removal to growing anti-Muslim sentiment in the U.S. and said that it was a direct result of the congressional hearing called by Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., on the radicalization of U.S. Muslims.
Abbasi said she was told that a flight attendant overheard her say on her cell phone words to the effect of: "It’s a go."
The mother of three, who is originally from Pakistan, told reporters that she said, "I’ve got to go," before hanging up because the flight was about to depart. She believes the flight attendant made the assumption about her comment because she was wearing an Islamic head scarf.
After patting down her head scarf and talking to her, Transportation Security Administration agents recognized the mistake and told her it was not necessary to inspect her purse or cell phone, Abbasi said.
But they refused to let her back on the plane, telling her the crew was uncomfortable with her on the flight, according to Abbasi. She was booked on the next flight.
"I was in tears," Abbasi said. "I was just crying. I have lived in the United States for 10 years. I am a U.S. citizen."
Southwest spokesman Chris Mainz said the airline has apologized to Abbasi twice, including the day of the incident. The airline also gave her a voucher for another flight, he said.
Abbasi said she gave the voucher to someone else and at this point does not want to fly Southwest again. She said she wants a written apology and a guarantee that the crew will be disciplined.
Abbasi, who is originally from Pakistan, said the verbal apology “doesn’t make me feel better. This time they said we weren’t comfortable with the head scarf. Next time, they won’t be comfortable with my accent or they won’t be comfortable with my South Asian heritage.”
Mainz said the airlines is looking into the matter but does not disclose internal actions.
“Southwest has a 40-year history of treating all of our customers with great respect and care,” Mainz said. “We treat all our customers the same and we think all of our employees do a very good job of that.”
Hanif Mohebi, director of the San Diego chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said his group believes she was targeted because of her head scarf and wants to meet with the airline to ensure it does not happen again.
On Tuesday, a federal appeals court unanimously reinstated a lawsuit filed by a Muslim woman who accused Southern California jailers in Orange County of violating her religious freedom when they ordered her to take off her head scarf in a courthouse holding cell.
The same day Abbasi was removed from a plane in San Diego, pilots on an Alaska Airlines flight from Mexico City to Los Angeles locked down the cockpit and alerted authorities when a flight crew grew alarmed at the behavior of three men who were conducting an elaborate orthodox Jewish prayer.
FBI and customs agents along with police and a full assignment of fire trucks met the plane at the gate at Los Angeles International Airport, and the men were escorted off. After questioning from the FBI, the men were released without being arrested.