Mohamed Radwan is a frequent flyer, but he won’t be flying with American Airlines anymore.
An American Airlines flight attendant singled him out on a December flight and repeatedly told him “I will be watching you,” before he was ultimately removed from the flight, according to a complaint filed Wednesday by the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
Radwan said he was taking his seat on a Dec. 6 flight from Charlotte to Detroit when a flight attendant identified him by name and seat number while issuing the warning loud enough for other passengers to hear, said the council’s complaint filed with the U.S. Department of Transportation.
“Mohamed Ahmed, seat 25-A: I will be watching you,” the complaint quoted the flight attendant as saying.
In a phone interview today, Radwan said he considered it “an attack on my values, in my country, aboard American Airlines.”
The 40-year-old Florida resident said he has lived in the United States for 20 years, including about 13 as a citizen. He’s originally from Egypt.
“I came to the U.S. in hopes to live in a country where equality is the mainstream,” he said.
As a senior manager at an Atlanta-based manufacturing company, Radwan has to fly about twice a month. And never before has he been removed from a jet or an airport, he said.
An American Airlines spokesman said today that the company conducted its own investigation earlier this year after being contacted by the council and determined that no discrimination occurred.
Spokesman Matt Miller said, “We serve customers of all backgrounds and faiths and do not tolerate discrimination of any kind.”
According to the complaint, the flight attendant repeated the comment about watching Radwan at least three times but did not make similar comments to other passengers. Radwan asked the flight attendant about the comments and was told he was being “too sensitive,” the complaint said.
“I told her, I’m just as American as everybody else on this plane,” Radwan said. “She was frazzled by what I said.”
After he raised the issue with another flight attendant, Radwan was asked to come to the front of the plane to discuss it. He was then removed from the plane after being told the flight attendant who made the announcement was “uncomfortable.”
“I did not raise my hands. I did not wave my hands. I did not curse,” Radwan said. “None of that happened except gathering facts and paying attention to what was said.”
The council said Radwan’s treatment is the latest case of Muslims or passengers of Middle Eastern descent being arbitrarily removed from flights without an “objectively reasonable cause or explanation.”
“It is apparent that American Airlines removed Mr. Radwan from his flight not out of a legitimate and credible safety concern or need, but because of his identifiably Arabic and Muslim name,” its complaint said.
In April, a college student was removed from a Southwest Airlines flight after another passenger overheard him speaking Arabic, one of at least five similar cases in the last eight months.
Radwan described himself as a student of the world who pays close attention to current events. In a polarized, post-9/11 society, Radwan said, there is still more good in the United States than there is bad. And he saw that when he shared his encounter in a post on Facebook, where friends came to his side with notes of encouragement and support.
“I understand this society very well,” he said. “I became a part of it. I know people are different based on their own experiences.”
In its complaint, the council accused American Airlines of violating a federal regulation prohibiting air carriers from discriminating against passengers on the grounds of “race, color, national origin, religion, sex or ancestry.”
It requested that the Department of Transportation investigate and take a broader look at a potential pattern of discrimination by major U.S. carriers. The complaint also requests that the agency develop clear guidelines for determining when a passenger may be removed from a flight and require regular diversity training for employees.
“I believe there needs to be some corrective actions to address the protocols … and how to communicate with consumers,” Radwan said.
After Radwan was removed, he said, staff offered him a boarding pass on the next American Airlines flight to Detroit. But he didn’t take it. Instead, he boarded with Delta Airlines.
“I did not feel this was a welcoming airline,” he said.
©2016 The Dallas Morning News