Airline Offers Apology Over Detained Muslim Passengers
AirTran Airways has issued a public apology and provided free return airfare to nine Muslim passengers who were ejected yesterday from an AirTran flight to Orlando at Reagan National Airport after two other passengers overheard what they construed as threatening remarks, washingtonpost reported.
AirTran spokesman Tad Hutcheson said the company had also agreed to refund the travelers the cost of their tickets on another carrier after AirTran refused to rebook them.
"We regret that the issue escalated to the heightened security level it did on New Year's Day, but we trust everyone understands that the security and the safety of our passengers is paramount and cannot be compromised," read a company statement. "We apologize to all of the passengers -- to the nine who had to undergo extensive interviews from the authorities and to the 95 who ultimately made the flight. Nobody on Flight 175 reached their destination on time on New Year's Day, and we regret it."
The nine passengers, including three young children, were headed to a religious retreat in Florida on New Year's Day when they were ordered off the flight but subsequently cleared of suspicion by FBI agents who characterized the incident as a misunderstanding, according to an airport official.
Federal and airline officials as well as several of the removed passengers said in interviews that the incident began about 1 p.m. after three of the passengers wondered aloud about the safest place to sit on the airplane. The conversation occurred as Atif Irfan, 29, his wife, Sobia Izaz, 21, and their sister-in-law, Inayet Sahin, 33, were walking along the aisle toward their seats at the back of the plane.
Officials said several other passengers overheard the conversation and became alarmed when they heard Sahin remark that sitting near the engines would not be safe in the event of an accident or explosion. Irfan and Izaz said the remark was entirely misconstrued and that the conversation was nothing more than innocuous banter.
"The conversation we were having was the conversation anyone would have," Irfan said of his sister-in-law in a telephone interview from Florida today. "She did not use the word bomb, she did not use the word explosion. She said it would not be safe to sit next to the engines in the event of an accident."
The three were traveling with six others: Irfan's brother, Kashif, 34; Kashif's three boys, ages 7, 4 and 2; Sahin's sister; and a family friend. All but one are U.S.-born citizens, but Kashif Irfan said he and the others think they were profiled at least in part because of their appearance. He said three of the six adults in the party are of Pakistani descent, two are of Turkish descent and one is African-American. He also said they have a traditionally Muslim appearance, with the men wearing beards and the women in head scarves.
Atif Irfan said he was glad for the apology but said the group was still discussing whether to accept AirTran's offer of a refund and free travel.
"They are being very conciliatory," he said.