Unrest at Southwest

13 Oct



Although I’ve been blogging mostly about global progress and its positive effects, this week I’d like to comment on a case where stereotyping and cultural paranoia led to the unfair exclusion of a U.S. citizen. This week, a Muslim woman is suing Southwest Airlines for being kicked off her flight this March. The woman was escorted out after a flight attendant reported  hearing her say “It’s a go” into her phone and assumed a terrorist plot.  According to L.A. Now, the woman was actually saying “I’ve got to go” as the plane was starting to take off. Irum Abbassi, a graduate student, said the employees unlawfully kicked her out of a flight going from San Diego to San Jose, where she was headed to finish research for her Master’s thesis.  Even before she boarded the plan, TPM stated she had already been detained for a second screening before the flight- she was wearing  typical Arab clothing: ” a long shirt, pants, sweater and hijab, or Islamic headscarf.”

The article then goes on to describe how the flight attendant overheard Abassi, who was talking to a Verizon representative about activating her smartphone, and alerted administration. She was then asked to get off. After they determined that Abbassi didn’t actually pose a threat, they told her she could re-board. However, when she got back to the gate, she was told the captain would not let her board because the crew “was uncomfortable with her on the plane.”

Abassi is a U.S. citizen and has lived in the United States for ten years after emigrating from Pakistan. She is a graduate student at San Jose State. According to the article, she is suing for discrimination and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
The airline defends its reason stating that: An airline can refuse to carry  a passenger for any reason, so long as it is not discriminatory.” While carriers may not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, sex or ancestry they can still reject passengers for various other reasons, such as same sex kissing. I surfed around to see if there were any similar cases, and I found that many airlines have been under scrutiny in recent years for kicking passengers off flights without “good reason.” However, it seems that Southwest is the most repeated offender.  Southwest has gotten a lot of heat after Actor Kevin Smith says he was removed from a Southwest flight for being too fat. Green Day lead singer Billy Joe Armstrong was also asked to leave for having baggy pants, and actress Leisha Hailey was escorted out for kissing her girlfriend.

While it may be defensible for an airline to double-check anyone they suspect a terrorist, it has no right to reject someone for no other reason than making the crew feel “uncomfortable.” This only perpetuates more social unrest and resentment.


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