Muslim passengers draw scrutiny
An innocent remark, profiling and American post-9-11 fears combined to cause some Muslim air travelers unnecessary aggravation on New Year’s Day.
An AirTran flight was delayed about two hours after a Muslim passenger was overheard talking about the safest place to sit on an airplane when one commented, “Wow, the jets are right next to my window.”
Hardly alarming. Just what any passenger might say looking out over the aircraft. But it was who said it or rather what the man looked like that alarmed passengers and sent everyone back to the terminal.
The man was one of nine Muslims readily identified by their appearance. The men had beards; the women wore traditional Muslim headscarves.
So the pilot was alerted, and in turn notified federal air marshals aboard the flight. The Transportation Security Administration and FBI were then notified. The passengers were checked again and allowed to re-board the flight. Except for the Muslims. AirTran would not allow them back on the plane even after the FBI cleared them. They completed their flight on another airline.
Airline and TSA officials defend how the situation was handled. An AirTran spokesman said that people “made comments they shouldn’t have made on the airplane and other people overheard them.”
But the profiling was disturbing. It is doubtful that such harmless comments would have drawn a second thought if the passengers had not been Muslims.