A Southwest Airlines flight attendant allegedly threatened to throw a woman wearing a hijab off of a plane because her request to sit near her family was making other passengers “uncomfortable.” The woman happened to be the wife of The Intercept journalist Mehdi Hasan, who detailed the dispute in a Twitter thread Monday.
“Hey @SouthwestAir : not a good look for your flight attendant on SW5539 to DC last night to loudly tell a brown woman in a headscarf she'll be ‘escorted off the plane’ for making people feel ‘uncomfortable’ - because she wanted to sit with her husband & kids! 1/ #flyingwhileMuslim,” Hasan tweeted. And that might have been all he said, but here’s the thing about journalists: Many of us have been trained to play very close attention to details at the first sign of trouble, so Hasan went on to give not only his perspective but also those of the others on the plane.
“The flight attendant called ground staff onto the plane, complained about the Muslim woman - my wife! - to them, & escalated rather than de-escalated the situation - simply because my wife politely asked a guy if he'd give up his seat for our family (which he was fine with,” Hasan said in another tweet. “Even her own @SouthwestAir colleague from the ground staff who came onboard to check things wondered why the flight attendant wouldn't shut up & let things go so we could take off,” Hasan added. "’Why is she escalating this?’ a passenger from across the aisle also asked aloud. Why indeed.”
Hasan said another passenger told his wife the flight attendant "treated you like a venomous snake." Then he addressed the airline directly: “Thanks @SouthwestAir for ruining the end of our Thanksgiving trip and leaving my wife in tears - because she wanted us all to sit together as a family while your flight attendant wanted to single her out and humiliate her. Thanks a lot,” he said. Hasan said in a final tweet about the flight that he hadn’t flown with the airline for years “and, at this point, don’t plan to do so again anytime in the near future.” “Not worth it,” he added.
The airline responded Friday on Twitter: “I can only empathize with the depths of you and your family’s feelings on this matter, and I’m sorry that we don’t have another resolution to offer,” its representative tweeted. “You have my assurances that the events as you have described them were carefully documented.”
Southwest isn’t the only airline that’s been accused of discriminating against passengers of color. Kiran and Dignity Mojo were traveling with their 3-month-old baby when British Airways employees at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport stopped them from boarding a flight July 20 after airport security allowed the family to pass through without a boarding pass due to flight delays at the airport, according to the British tabloid The Sun. A "white Englishman" in a similar predicament was allowed to board, the family said.
In another incident, Dana Holcomb, a black man, was kicked off of an American Airlines flight “so a dog could fly first class.” The airline spokesperson in that incident accused Holcomb of being “confrontational.” Needless to say, the situation ended in a lawsuit.
Southwest only released its apology in the recent incident after Hasan shamed the company in another thread Friday for apologizing privately but not publicly, which, I might add, is how the incident with his wife reportedly played out. He said Southwest offered his family travel vouchers that failed to cover the costs of their flights, then spelled out a “false narrative” of what happened toThe Sun. “Once we learned about the Customer’s social media message, we began to research the flight and gather information internally,” an airline spokesperson told the tabloid. "We also reached out to the Customer directly to discuss his Family’s experience prior to departure. "From our initial discussions, we understand that some Passengers on Flight 5539 were involved in a disagreement over seat selection near the end of boarding.”
The airline told The Sun that a flight crew requested a customer service supervisor, who boarded the plane to “help address the situation and the conversation was resolved before the plane left the gate.” "The Family was (sic) able to sit together and the flight arrived safely in Washington, D.C. on Sunday night,” the airline told The Sun. “We remain in communication with the Customer who sent the tweet and are working to address his concerns directly."