DALLAS >> Two Dallas-area Muslim men say their American Airlines flight was canceled because the crew “didn’t feel comfortable” after they waved to one another boarding a flight from Birmingham, Ala., to DFW International Airport.
When they got off, they said they were trailed by law enforcement officers, interviewed by an FBI agent and had their bags searched again by TSA during their trip on Sept. 14.
Abderraoof Alkhawaldeh, a Muslim motivational speaker from Irving, and Dallas nonprofit leader Issam Abdallah, said it was a blatant act of racial profiling and they have filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Transportation against Fort Worth-based American. They said they want to talk with the airline’s leaders about their treatment and what they say is an increasing number of cases of discrimination against Arabs and Muslims.
“It was the most humiliating day of my life,” Abdallah said, speaking Thursday at the Dallas-Fort Worth chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
American Airlines said the flight was operated by Mesa Airlines, its Phoenix-based regional carrier.
Airline spokeswoman LaKesha Brown said the flight was canceled as a result of “concerns raised by a crew member and a passenger.”
“American and all of its regional partners have an obligation to take safety and security concerns raised by crew members and passengers seriously,” she said in a statement. “All customers on Flight 5886 were rebooked on the next flight to DFW. We’re committed to providing a positive experience to everyone who travels with us. Our team is working with Mesa to review this incident.”
Brown said the airline has reached out to Alkhawaldeh and Abdallah to “better understand their experience.”
Mesa is independently owned and flies regional jets under the American Eagle flag for American Airlines and United Express. Mesa did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
American has been under fire during the last two years for alleged hostilities toward racial minorities. The NAACP issued a travel advisory in October 2017 for American Airlines after a string of incidents where black passengers said they were discriminated against on flights.
In June, a Miami doctor said he was removed from an American Airlines flight for his Arab and Muslim appearance and for using a phone during takeoff. He is suing the airline in federal court. That same month, a black doctor and founder of a telemedicine service said an American Airlines crew called her romper inappropriate and told her to cover up or risk being kicked off her flight coming home from vacation to Jamaica.
Imam Omar Suleiman of Dallas said instances of racial profiling of Muslims are increasing, particularly at airports and on planes.
“Airports are a scary place for Muslims,” said Suleiman, who founded the Yaqueen Institute for Islamic Research in Dallas. “Especially with the rhetoric of the president.”
The men, who know each other from the local Muslim community, said they were traveling separately to a charity meeting in Birmingham. They were sitting in separate sections and waved to one another while boarding.
During a flight delay because of maintenance issues, Abdallah said he got up to use the restroom and when he came out a flight attendant was standing unusually close to the restroom door.
The crew soon announced the flight was canceled. Alkhawaldeh said he overheard a crew member saying it was canceled for security reasons.
When they got off the plane, law enforcement was waiting for them. After some initial questioning, the men said they were let go but then tailed by a number of uniformed officers to a coffee shop and other areas.
After a few minutes, both men said they were again approached by law enforcement and taken into a private interrogation. They had bags searched again by TSA officers.
Alkhawaldeh and Abdallah said while being interviewed by law enforcement, they were each told the flight was canceled because the crew didn’t feel comfortable flying with the two men. The fact that Abdallah flushed the toilet twice while using the airplane restroom also caused suspicion, Abdallah said he was told.
They were booked on a later flight, with many of the same passengers who saw them approached by law enforcement as the plane was emptied.
Alkhawaldeh said he flies with American often and is an AAdvantage Executive Platinum member, the company’s highest frequent flier ranking.
“This is absurd, unacceptable and un-American,” Alkhawaldeh said.