Muslim Group Demands Apology From Southwest Airlines

A Muslim civil liberties says a Dallas-based airline should apologize to a graduate student who was kicked off her flight Sunday.

Irum Abassi said Transportation Security Administration agents asked her to get off the plane while she waiting for her Southwest Airlines flight to leave San Diego for San Jose, Calif.

"When I deboarded the flight, I saw 10 people looking at me, and I said, 'Did I do something wrong?'" she said.

The San Diego woman said they told her that the flight attendant said she was "suspicious."

“I was in tears,” Abassi said.

Abassi had been talking on her cell moments earlier, and a flight attendant misunderstood a portion of the conversation, said Edgar Hopida, Council on American-Islamic Relations spokesman.

"She said, 'Hurry up, I have to go,'" he said. "The flight attendant alleged that she said, 'It's a go,' like something's going to happen."

Abassi, a U.S. citizen who was traveling to finish research for her master's degree, said she was calling her service provider to change her data plan. She missed an important meeting because she pulled off the flight, CAIR said.

"We are gravely concerned with such cases, and we will stand by our community and any American that goes through such things," said Hanif Mohebi, CAIR executive director.

The San Diego chapter of CAIR is asking Southwest Airlines to apologize and review its policies and training, as well as meet with Abassi.

“This is the kind of thing that we’re concerned about,” Hopida said. “Was it that suspicious to be removed from a plane simply for being Muslim and having a headscarf on?”

Southwest Airlines would not comment on whether it would comply with the group's requests.

The Dallas-based airline said it is sorry for the incident and said the company verbally apologized to Abassi.

"I think the most important thing was how quickly we addressed the situation with the customer," Southwest spokeswoman Ginger Hardage said.

Abassi said two Southwest agents apologized to her at the time of the incident and told her that the captain has the final say. They told her that the flight's crew members did not feel comfortable with her on the flight.

“They said, 'We know you're clear, but we cannot let you go on this flight because they are not willing to accept you,'” she said.

Before she boarded the plane, Abassi went through the airport's typical security measures, including a secondary inspection, and was cleared.

The TSA agents who removed her from the plane did not give her further security scrutiny, Hopida said. They did not pat her down or take her to a room for interrogation.

Abassi said she handed her purse and phone over for inspection, but security didn't even touch them.

The agents instead escorted her to a Southwest ticket counter to get another flight.

"She was cleared to fly," Hardage said. "We apologized to the customer. She was issued a gesture of goodwill, a travel voucher, and she continued on with her flight."

Abassi is a U.S. citizen who has lived in the country for 10 years.

She regularly makes the trip between San Diego and the Bay area. She said she often wears a headscarf and has never had a problem traveling.

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