$9 Million Lawsuit After Men Kicked Off Plane For “Looking Too Muslim”

We live in scary times. Not just in terms of safety and what’s going on in the world, but also in terms of acceptance of others. In November we heard about several instances where passengers were removed from flights or delayed from boarding over seemingly non-issues.

One Southwest flight was delayed because a passenger spoke Arabic in the gate area. A Muslim man was kicked off a Spirit flight for “watching a video,” which caused the following reaction from a passenger seated near him: “I started praying to God, like, I literally thought that plane was going to blow up. It was the scariest moment of my life.”

Spirit-Airlines

While I understand the concept of “if you see something, say something,” I do think there needs to be more education surrounding this. There’s a difference between someone who is different, and someone who is suspicious.

This brings us to the latest story, which involves a $9 million federal lawsuit, after four men were kicked off a Toronto to New York flight. I don’t think this one is quite as straightforward as the others. There were six friends who were traveling home — two sets of two were booked on separate flights, and then the other two passengers don’t really matter in the story, since they weren’t removed from the plane. Via the NY Daily News:

They had originally booked different flights home, but later decided to return on the same 2 p.m. American Airlines flight.

Two of the pals, Shan Anand and Faimul Alam, paid $75 to switch to the flight that two others — who are comfortable being identified only by their initials, W.H. and M.K. — had already booked.

W.H. and M.K. also changed their booking before boarding, paying $70 for an upgrade to business class. They were assigned seats in the first and third row, respectively.

Anand and Alam said they switched seats with strangers after boarding, so they could sit next to each other.

The four passengers were asked to get off the plane (for what it’s worth, two were Bangladeshi Muslims, one was an Arab Muslim and, one was Sikh from India). What was the reason they were given for being removed?

When they got off the plane, a jittery agent from American Airlines told them they made the crew uncomfortable.

“She said the stewardess and the captain felt uneasy with us being on the flight,” W.H. said. “There were inconsistencies of our behavior traveling as a group, because two of us upgraded and two of us didn’t.”

“They didn’t cite any basis of inappropriate or boisterous behavior; their situation wasn’t a security issue or threat,” charged Aboushi. “It’s the plaintiffs’ position that the reason they were taken off the flight is because this is blatant discrimination.”

M.K. says he asked the agent if they were thrown off because of their appearance.

The agent said their appearance “did not help,” according to the suit.

They’re suing American Airlines, each seeking $1 million in compensatory damages, and collectively seeking $5 million in punitive damages. The flight was operated by Republic Airlines on behalf of American Eagle, so they plan on suing them as well.

American-Eagle

Bottom line

Based on the lawsuit the airline seems to be in the wrong, but this case isn’t quite as straightforward as the others. Or perhaps it’s just that I lose a bit of sympathy for situations when people try to file lawsuits for millions of dollars over being kicked off a plane. Which, fair enough, maybe that’s not unreasonable, and maybe that’s what’s needed to finally stop these situations from happening.

But I also think that this situation wasn’t quite as clear cut as the others, given the irregularities in their ticketing patterns. I also have to wonder whether the pilots or flight attendants even knew about this (did they consult with the gate agent and find this out?) or is this just a defense the airline is using after the fact?

I’m curious to see where this case goes. If nothing else I hope it leads to the airlines setting more boundaries for employee behavior when it comes to removing people from flights. I also wonder who the real responsible party here is — is it American Airlines, American Eagle, or Republic Airlines?

What do you make of this story, and in particular the lawsuit?

Comments

  1. “If nothing else I hope it leads to the airlines setting more boundaries for employee behavior when it comes to removing people from flights.”

    That is precisely why the plaintiff’s seeking damages in the millions is not unreasonable. It sends a strong message to airlines that discrimination is not going to be tolerated. Enough is f-ing enough!

  2. @ Lucky – I am not quite sure what “irregularities” in their ticketing actually exist, or what those “irregularities” might suggest.

    To me, this is out and out racism, or racial profiling. Maybe a jury or a judge rules differently, but a crew feeling “uncomfortable” with passengers who have done nothing odd should have to explain their rationale. So far, they haven’t.

  3. If they’d been kicked off for being women or gay, would that make a difference in your mind? This is racism, pure and simple. The fact that people are hiding behind “security” doesn’t change that.

    Since this was a Toronto to New York flight, the actual discrimination took place in Canada. I wonder if the US courts will use that as an excuse to turf the case before it gets to trial. They could always file a complaint with the Ontario or Canadian Human Rights Commissions where they’d almost surely win.

  4. I’m not sure that a SDC or paid upgrades can really be considered as “irregular”.

    People SDC and upgrade all the time. There are lots of possible reasons. Perhaps the friends bought tickets at different times, but when the last pair went to book only the price had gone up (possibly by hundreds of dollars) so they booked a different flight. Then on the day of, they figured it was worth it to SDC onto their friends flight. It’s also possible that some of them didn’t think it was worth $70 to upgrade on a relatively short flight – or maybe the paid upgrade was only offered to two of them.

    Both of these situations have happened to me while traveling with friends. Nobody ever questioned me about it.

  5. Put yourself in their shoes; imagine you were kicked off an Etihad plane for being openly gay. Wouldn’t you try to sue them for every penny you can squeeze out of them?

  6. This happened again yesterday on a Delta flight (#1455 MCO-JFK). Saw it from someone on Twitter named Jonathan Gottfried (@jonmarkgo), who is in the tech/start-up/hacking community. He observed a man get removed from a flight after some woman complained that she was uncomfortable.

    Supposedly a Delta employee took the seat of the removed passenger and there were some inappropriate comments made after the “brown” person was off the plane.

    Delta justified it by saying this passenger (and I guess two of his friends?) were removed because they would not comply with the cell phone policy. (Even though dozens of other passengers were using their cell phones at the time).

    Really disturbing trend. If someone is uncomfortable with a fellow passenger just because of the color of their skin, then that person should remove themselves from the plane. We shouldn’t let xenophobia and bigotry run the “friendly skies”.

  7. Put yourself in their shoes, what if you were refused a room in the ME on your recent trip with Ford during check-in ? disgraceful behavior

  8. Seems like racial profiling/racism to me. People will always let their fears dictate their behavior. It is no different than the idea that when walking alone at night, in a city a majority of people are looking for a minority to rob them over a white person. I’m not saying this is right. I am saying that changing the rules, or lawsuits or education will not assuage people’s fears. Not in the next decade IMO.

  9. “Or perhaps it’s just that I lose a bit of sympathy for situations when people try to file lawsuits for millions of dollars over being kicked off a plane.”

    I remember the fit you threw over the Korean Air lounge that was blocking access to gay sites. I can only imagine how you’d react if you and Ford were thrown off a plane for displaying PDAs while people muttered “faggots” under their breaths while you walked past them (or hell, why mutter, they’d say it out loud). Even though I’m sure you and Ford would probably race each other to the nearest lawyer’s office, you’d probably expect sympathy from others. Why should they be any different?

    “But I also think that this situation wasn’t quite as clear cut as the others, given the irregularities in their ticketing patterns”

    Lucky, I think you, of all people, should be the last person to judge others based on their ticketing patterns.

  10. “irregularities in their ticketing patterns” – Utilizing SDC and UFC is irregular ticketing behavior? It’s like throwing a Mormon, 7th Day Adventist and a Baha’i off because they look Christian. WTF.

  11. The discrimination actually took place on “US Soil” because the AA gates in YYZ are after Immigration/Customs with pre-clearance, so there is legal ground for a US suit.

  12. I am a brown man who worries about something like this happening to me or my family every time we fly. I don’t particularly think that, were I denied boarding, I would deserved 1 million dollars. But the point is that lawsuits like this one are how things change.

  13. Everyone above me pretty much summed up my thoughts here.

    You can’t have it both ways.

    Perhaps this is a posting you should have pondered a while more before posting

  14. The highlight of this case/situation, in addition to the fact that I’d hardly consider SDC or LMU unusual (as I have used both on many occasions on this exact route, both with AC and now with AA (ugh can’t believe Avios is closing my loophole!) in addition to traveling with my brother on a separate reservation) is the fact that this is a pre-clearance flight.

    All of these individuals, in addition to being cross-referenced against any no-fly or watch lists was also likely interviewed (unless they have GlobalEntry/NEXUS) by a US CBP officer at YYZ prior to entering the sterile area.

    I’m not really sure what more we can do in terms of screening (CBP + normal airport security) to give crews the confidence that they don’t have to just randomly discriminate against passengers who look different or whose travel patterns appear irregular.

    I’m sure many people who read this blog have done some of the following: SDC, LMU, traveling with a passenger on a different PNR, switching seats once onboard to be next to said passenger, etc.

    I’m all for safety and respecting the decision of the crew, but hopefully there is some further evidence that will come out that justifies the crew’s action in this case.

  15. “Or perhaps it’s just that I lose a bit of sympathy for situations when people try to file lawsuits for millions of dollars over being kicked off a plane.”

    You just offended all the non-white readers of your blog… way to go pal!

  16. this is why POINTS & MILES should just stick to that and not comment on other aspects of travel which is clearly a sensitive topic and your backgroundis helping the matter either

  17. “Or perhaps it’s just that I lose a bit of sympathy for situations when people try to file lawsuits for millions of dollars over being kicked off a plane.” Idiot. Maybe if Ford and you get kicked off Etihad, and you sued, you might change your tune. Stick to reviews, Lucky.

  18. Recently, a flight out of Oslo was delayed because cleaning found a note in urdu.
    After further investigation, it was determined that the note didn’t pose any threath to the flight.

    Gosh, for all I now, it could have been a grocery shopping list.

    Things have gotten out of hand.

  19. If what you wrote about above is all the facts, this is pure discrimination.

    I can’t count how many times I have traveled with friends, and as we all booked the trip at slightly differing times, we end up on different flights due to cost at time of booking. To then use same day confirmed change to end up on same flight, to save money on taxis/ubers on the other side. Some of us have more money than others, so will pay to upgrade to first, while others are comfortable at the back of the plane.

    Luckily I am white, so those suspicious travel plans haven’t caused any issues.

  20. I think as an experiment brown, muslim men need to start complaining that the christian, white guy sitting next to him makes him “uncomfortable”.

  21. Cecilie,

    Indeed things have gotten out of hand, but hopefully lawsuits will help make airlines accountable for these kind of ridiculous outcomes that then seek shelter under the stupid umbrella of “out of an abundance of caution” type defenses.

    Interestingly enough, Oslo has a rather substantial community of ethnic Pakistanis for whom Urdu is a 1st, 2nd or 3rd language and finding an Urdu note shouldn’t be all that uncommon. Oslo even has a rather extensive history of having non-stop service between Oslo and Pakistan. It was one of those PIA routes that rather surprised me to see. Almost as much as seeing Air Zimbabwe at SIN.

    OMAAT,

    There is nothing irregular about customers choosing to pay a bit more to get onto a flight with their friends and pay to upgrade to a premium cabin seat — not even when done at the gate. If your line about “irregular ticketing” is rooted in just that and “irregular ticketing” is the excuse to try to justify the airline’s action against these four passengers, then it’s a very weak line indeed and I hope the $9,000,000 lawsuits is a winner for the passengers.

  22. How many times have you changed a ticket at the last minute? How many times have you upgraded friends at the last minute? How many times have you switched seats at the last minute in order to get your preferred seat?

  23. Paid upgrades and SDCs are “ticketing irregularities”?? Huh? Pretty odd comment coming from this blog especially.

    If you agree in principle I don’t know why the lawsuit dollar amount has anything to do with it. It’s pretty common for suits like this to file for big ticket numbers. And maybe the airlines need to be hit with a significant penalty to eventually stop this nonsense.

  24. Oh please. A bunch of mostly white people screaming discrimination.

    Thats how the world is because one of the most deadly terror attacks in modern history began with an innocent flight with Arab looking men on board a plane seemingly minding their own business.

    Man’s tendency to generalise is rooted from experience whether personal or observed. Face it, we’re not really hearing a lot of positive news coming from the Middle East–or even Arabs for that matter.

    And please don’t compare this to discrimination against homosexuals. I doubt homosexuals are high on the list of people who want to blow up a plane. These people–traumatised from images of 9/11 (yes, accuse them of ignorance if you want) feared for their lives and took precaution.

  25. The thing that even you (Lucky) doesn’t comprehend is how these kinds of events psychologically effects us brown people. Even in the middle east, you can disguise your sexual orientation. We on the other hand are brown and black 24 hrs a day 365 days a year so discrimination on any level should never be tolerated and companies that allow it should be financially penalized.

    Very disappointing in your lack of understanding on such a simple matter for a person with a brain and a heart.

  26. Do you never change your flight plans at the last minute? or upgrade at the last minute? Just because they are Muslim doesn’t mean they are doing something wrong. I hope they win the case and get some money. The US needs to get over this everyone is a threat stage.

  27. This may be the most, or at least the top three, popular travel blog out there because Lucky covers more than just miles and points. I like this blog because it is informative, educational and entertaining, both from the bloggers and the commentators. But I resent the personal attacks,divisive behavior, name-calling, and sometimes offensive language.
    @pill: Did you know the FBI has been alerting the WH and Congress about the escalating threat of home-grown terrorists from native-born males? More people died from mass shootings than from foreign terrorists in the States. Do you understand the effects of US bombings in foreign countries, consistently and continuously since WWII? The US, Saudi Arabia and Iran are the main culprits in ME quagmire in modern time, but the history and religion of the region also adds fuel to fire. The politicians don’t understand why bombing doesn’t achieve its goal.
    When people don’t mingle with people of different ethics or have higher social-economic status, they tend to be hypocritical and non-pragmatic.

  28. Not the kind of quality post usually found here. Thankfully I’ve never been removed from a plane for being brown, despite occasionally engaging in what Lucky describes as “irregular ticketing activity” such as a last minute upgrade.

    Depending on where the suit is filed, there’s a possibility it may be pre-empted by the ADA, although this kind of behavior probably falls outside of the umbrella of “rates, routes and services.” I look forward to seeing what happens here.

    I also look forward to seeing what continues to be posted here. I can’t say that I’ve never made hypocritical comments before, but I can only hope the Author learns from his mistake.

  29. I am probably in the top one percent in terms of age of the readers of your blog. Yes I am old! How old? Well I had enough miles to fly BA Concorde in 1988!

    Being neither white nor black, I am post 9/11 very sensitive that the color of my skin will make people uncomfortable. So I do make an effort to alleviate concerns. I dress up, greet FAs, chat with the person next to me ( when possible) and do try to keep the FA happy by not making any requests of them.

    This country has been great for me. No country is perfect. Unfortunately the imperfections fall unevenly.

    The day may come when I am off loaded. I would leave quietly. I would not sue.

    We all have to look deep into our conscience and ask what compromises we are willing to make. I have made mine and am thankful that’s all that is being asked of me.

  30. Like all other commenters on this subject, I do not know all the facts in this case. Except for the fact that millions of individuals are retiring after working for several decades. A vast majority DO NOT have even $500,000 in savings to live out their retirement years.

    Yet getting bumped off a flight should entitle one to several million dollars?? I DON’T THINK SO. But go ahead and pay them so the price of airline tickets can be raised a bit more

  31. @Aaron – “I remember the fit you threw over the Korean Air lounge that was blocking access to gay sites.”

    Except he didn’t sue KE for millions of $$.

  32. This case won’t see the light of day – federal officials decided long ago to give aircrew the final say to throw anyone off a plane for any reason that they see fit. I’ve seen or read about people of all shapes, shades, and sizes thrown off planes for things as simple as making a smart ass remark to a FA or lawyers taking pictures of seats on United flights ;-), others going insane mid flight and trying to open an emergency exit. Pilots can even ignore air traffic controllers if they feel like it.

    The flight crew ALWAYS has the final say. No one’s getting anything for getting thrown off a flight.

  33. @Lucky I find your comments offensive and I am not surprised. Thanks for letting us know who you really are.

  34. With Islamic terrorists running wild in Europe it is totally okay to be a afraid of people who look the part.

  35. @justsayin –???!

    I’d be so happy if the next time one of these paranoid, closed-minded idiots complained, the airline threw THEM off for big a racist that made civilized people uncomfortable.

  36. Only 5 million? That is small change for the airlines. Moral of this episode? Don’t upgrade and swap seats.

  37. @Brian L.

    I never said he sued. I was just saying if he was that pissed off over gay sites being banned in a lounge, I can only imagine how he’d react to being kicked off a flight for being gay.

    “The day may come when I am off loaded. I would leave quietly. I would not sue.”

    You can never say for sure what your reaction will be until it happens to you.

    @Ghee

    Given who the culprits of most US mass shootings are, people on flights should worry every other person of European descent is going to whip out a gun and start shooting the plane up?

  38. Well.. American Airlines Group makes billions of dollars every year in annual profit. $9m should be good enough of a snap/wake-up call to the airline to make sure it never happens again in the future, or if the passengers lose the case, at least to ensure that they hire properly-groomed crews who put people off of flights just because of the way they dress or the language they speak in. Hell, train their crews to speak Arabic if they’re so easily suspicious of Middle Eastern-looking men speaking in their mother tongue

  39. They will not get a red penny, this also happened on Aegean where Israeli Muslims were removed from a flight. They have every right to make security a priority, with all the Muslim and ISIS on going activity that is going on.

  40. I suggest to make separate classes for jews and muslims and one for true americans with cowboy hats. Don’t allow foreigners to board at all.

  41. Can’t believe the handful of bigots in this thread. This is the United States – you don’t get to have an innocent person kicked off a plane because you don’t like the color of the skin, period. The 9 million headline figure is just for show, of course, but the airlines that continue to allow this to happen again and again *should* pay a large fine: they are blatantly violating the law.

    Because of that idiot with a bad toupee who has somehow convinced a handful of Americans that open bigotry is no problem, we have to deal with these types of situations over and over. Look at the facts. Since 9/11, which was nearly 15 years ago, there have been fewer than SIX Americans killed by Islamist terrorists per year. Six! Quite literally there have been more schoolchildren killed in their own schools. Lightning and bees have killed substantially more Americans. And yet irrational fear played up for political gain leads me to security theater every week when I fly, and leads innocent folks with browner skin – one of whom was a Sikh, wearing a turban that anyone who really cares about the world, even a bigoted person, should know isn’t Muslim! – to be kicked off flights and harassed at our borders for no reason. It is UnAmerican.

  42. I love how people are so quick to condemn the airline even though they only know details of the story coming from the plaintiffs. Who are asking for an absurd amount of money. I’m beginning to wonder if they were looking for a lawsuit, the new aggrieved lottery.

  43. @globetrotter: I’m not buying the “multiculti-kumbaya” mentality sorry. People who did so are the same people who never said a word during terror attacks or who saw something suspicious but brushed it off, putting faith instead on the good of humanity. And where are they now? For lack of a better word, probably dead or living with guilt. These are gruesome truths that we have to grapple with. Yes, it’s difficult but that’s just how it is. Political correctness will be the death of Western society. It’s a slow grind.

  44. Wow, these comments.

    “Political correctness will be the death of Western society” and that justifies kicking out a Brown person from an airplane, who could probably be Hindu, Sikh, or Buddhist, and have way less in common with Muslims than Christians and Jews do since all three fall under the Abrahamic religions? You hypocrite Judeo-Christians do realise that you have far more in common with these Muslims than like, some random Brown person sitting next to you on the plane, right?

    Anyway, I’m glad that the true face of this blog and its readers have now been exposed. My previous comments on the AI post were true, after all. No matter how progressive you claim to be, if you’re White, you’re probably a nasty piece of work inside. Do us all a favour and stay away from Asia. We don’t take kindly to culturally and intellectually inferior people in our midst. Perhaps we should start kicking White people off JAL and SIA for their ties to the KKK.
    Too unpolitically correct for you? Well, you asked for it.

  45. Bigotry is always a choice.
    Mean people suck.

    I’m glad Lucky posted the piece, at least the factual part. But this emerging pattern of provocative posts and opinion, bigoted comments and their rebuttal, is tedious.

    I have yet to see one comment in any of these worthless threads indicating that a bigot has changed his mind. Everyone just talking over each other.

    Be kind to people. Criticize error only if you are strong enough to admit error. Always forgive error. Always accept a sincere apology. Always give an apology well before you are certain you owe one.

    Civilization is the process of learning to be kind.
    Trump for Dogcatcher.

  46. Krish, please also include ‘Christian’ as a possible religion of your ‘brown person’; Christians have lived in India since at least the first century AD.

  47. To add on to what Tom said, Ethiopia is the 2nd oldest Christian civilization and its a straight up brown land. Educate yourself before you fall in the fear/bigotry category.

  48. Please do not vote TRUMP, he is racist and America and the foundation Republic principals deserve better.

  49. Very important that you DON”T vote for a racist Tea Party President ? I saw that women saying “We gonna kick IS ass”.

    Racism is so 19th century.

  50. Wow.
    Often Lucky’s posting replies here in the comments but now that the fanboys have turned on Lucky, he’s gone silent.
    Too funny.

    Anyway, which credit card should I get this week Lucky?

  51. The person reporting she feels afraid and that such and such person is a threat needs to face criminal prosecution as this is not different then yelling fire in a crowded theatre. The victim is permanently damage so this woman needs to this man for the rest her life for the damage she has caused. this is beyond ridiculous- I can already see these fleshy, nervous, racist, ugly women who complain- their faces sweaty with fear over someone who has olive skinned (never mind that 40% of all white people have olive skin) These airlines need to pay hundreds of millions not millions and be forced to give all the victims fair restitution and considering the damage is life long it should be ALOT more than 9 million. Every person on the crew should lose their job and that pilot should never be allowed to fly a plane again. If you are that blatantly racist you should have no place serving the public, period.

  52. If I were kicked off a plane merely due to the ignorant whims and fancies of the crew or fellow passengers, that would mentally and emotionally scar me for life and I would then sue for millions for obtaining the required therapy to recover. And win. You better believe it.

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