On New Year’s Day passengers Kashif Irfan, his wife, brother, sister-in-law and their children boarded an AirTran flight from Regan National Airport in Washington, DC to Orlando, Florida. After seating, one couple was discussing the safest place to sit on a plane, a discussion I have had with my own teenage daughter as she flies frequently. Apparently a statement regarding “the jets being right outside his window” turned into a security nightmare when AirTran had the passengers removed from the plane and federal officials re-screened the removed passengers before allowing the plane to depart.
The plane departed, late, and without the 9 passengers who were removed from the flight and though cleared by the FBI agents were not allowed to reboard, or to fly with AirTran to their intended destination. They finally reached Orlando, on a flight from US Airways.
Irfan is a 34 year old anesthesiologist and his brother is a lawyer. They are U.S. citizens, born in Detroit Michigan. Both now live in Alexandria, Va., with their families.
AirTran Airways did reimburse them the cost of their unused ticket and has stated that they may now fly.
Ted Hutcheson (a representative of AirTran) and a federal Transportation Security Administration spokeswoman said the pilot was right to postpone the flight.
In April, 2008 an Orthodox Jewish man was removed from a flight from a United Airlines Flight from New York to San Francisco as he took approximately 2 minutes to say his prayers while boarding completed. When asked to take his seat other passengers explained that he could not interrupt his prayers and would be done in approximately 2 minutes. After completion, the gentleman apologized for not responding, and explained the tenants of his faith. He was still removed from the flight and unable to return to his home in San Francisco until he could make other travel arrangements. The claim was his prayer caused the flight to be delayed. However I can’t remember the last time I actually boarded and took off on a flight on time and landed on time.
In 2007 several Iraqi Americans were removed from a flight, for speaking Arabic. Their American Airlines flight from San Diego, CA to Chicago, IL returned to the gate after another passenger “complained” about Arab speaking passengers. Upon investigation it was discovered this Iraqi Americans had just left Camp Pendleton where they were assisting in the training of US Marines being deployed to Iraq.
These are just a few examples of individuals being removed from planes in the past few years. Many of us have also heard the stories of mother’s being removed due to their children crying or even the “bye bye” babbling baby. One woman was asked to leave a plane because her skirt was too short. I know I too have also experienced my fair share of airport security fiascos with my toddler daughter ( My Toddler Daughter’s Experience with Airport Security, TSA)
Several years ago, while traveling for work, I had wrapped a scarf around my head as I was boarding a flight where we had to board from the ground and it was very cold outside. As a result, I was pulled from the boarding passengers and placed through additional screening and asked to remove my scarf and open my suit jacket. Since I am typical Irish American, and my name reflects this as well as my appearance, this seemed a little ridiculous, but apparently my carefully wrapped pashmina scarf (now considered a must have accessory) was too much for the flight crew to handle and required additional security screening and scrutiny.
Removal of passengers takes place on many airlines and for many reasons. But are we any safer due to the removal? Or are the actions of the airlines and security officials actually trampling on basic rights of freedom of speech or religion in their quest for security? Are officials taught to understand different cultures, religions, dress and people in an effort to not only provide us with security during airline travel but also with care and comfort? Removing passengers because of their looks, their language, their dress, or their religion is wrong and requires a closer look at not only the training that airline personal receive but also on the thoughts and attitudes of all. Many of these instances could have been avoided if as in the a case of the family at Reagan National or the gentlemen speaking Arabic, more people were educated regarding different cultures, races, people and beliefs, instead of reporting information that to me should be pursued as inciting panic. It’s not all on the airlines, but they have their fair share of the blame, and as service provider has a higher level of accountability in instances of removing passengers from planes, no matter what the reason.
What do you think? Are we any safer with these passengers removed? Or has the quest for security become too extreme and ignored other basic human rights?