Southwest Airlines

Muslim American Discriminated Against For Wearing Hijab on Flight: Complaint

A Muslim American says she was discriminated against by a flight attendant for wearing a hijab

NBCUniversal, Inc.

A North Texas woman says she was discriminated against by a flight attendant from Southwest Airlines.

Fatima Altakrouri, a Muslim woman born and raised in the United States, says she was barred from sitting in an exit row seat because she was wearing a traditional hijab.

“It shouldn't happen,” Altakrouri said during a news conference Tuesday.

Altakrouri, and her sister Muna Kowni, both Muslim Americans, were on their way home from a personal trip to Florida on May 22.

“My mother was in critical ICU,” Altakrouri said.

They say they’d just boarded a flight from Fort Lauderdale to Dallas when they were told by a flight attendant that Altakrouri couldn’t sit in an exit row seat because she couldn’t speak English, even though she says she was.

“That's what makes it even more appalling,” Altakrouri said.

Then, their attorney Marwa Elbially says the flight attendant said the flight attendant commented to nearby passengers that Altakrouri would “bring down the plane in an emergency because she doesn’t speak English.”

“To me, that made me look like I am some kind of a terrorist. I am not,” Altakrouri said.

Fatima's sister Muna Kowni – who does not wear the hijab - says she tried talking to the flight attendant. While her sister wasn’t allowed to sit in the exit row, she says she was, but didn’t.

“I think the hardest part is when you actually have to get insulted and you have to stay quiet for three hours straight and not say a word,” Kowni said.

Elbially said, “The only difference between these two American sisters is one wears a religious head covering and the other does not.”

Fatima says she filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Transportation when she landed at Love Field.

“Southwest Airlines disregarded Department of Transportation guidance,” Elbially said.

In a statement to NBC 5, a Southwest Airlines spokesperson wrote, "Our reports do not support claims made by the passenger...individuals seated in an exit row are required to verbally indicate that they can perform certain duties inflight. Our Crew is responsible for getting that confirmation from a passenger before seating them in an overwing exit row and was unable to gain acknowledgment from the passenger during boarding."

"Southwest neither condones nor tolerates discrimination of any kind," read the statement which said the passenger was offered her an alternate seat.

“I am shocked because we fly with Southwest a lot,” Kowni said, adding she was disappointed that other passengers didn’t speak up on their behalf.

Shocked and saddened -- because of how they say they were treated by everyone onboard.

“The fact that nobody said anything just makes me think what is our country coming to? Why are we not defending one another?” Altakrouri said.

Contact Us