An American-born bilingual Muslim woman wearing a hijab has alleged Southwest Airlines of racial discrimination after she was forced to move out from the exit row seat. The woman, Fatima Altakrouri, was allegedly told by a flight attendant that she "couldn't speak English" and "would bring the whole plane down in an emergency."
Interestingly, it was all because of the hijab she was wearing. Her sister, who was not wearing a hijab, says she was allowed to sit in the aisle. The Dallas-Fort Worth chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations sent a press release on Tuesday about a complaint the chapter filed against Southwest Airlines.
All Because of Hijab
Fatima and her sister were speaking Arabic when they boarded the plane from Fort Lauderdale to Dallas on May 22, after seeing their mom in hospital. That's when they were approached by a flight attendant who allegedly asked Fatima to move.
The two then started speaking English fluently and tried to convince the flight attendant but the steward was adamant and didn't listen to them and allegedly told them, "It doesn't matter." Interestingly, the flight attendant said Fatima had to move but allowed her sister, who wasn't wearing a hijab, to sit in the seat, Fatima's lawyer Mrwa Elbially said.
On Tuesday, the two sisters held a news conference where she said that she and her sister wanted to sit next to each other in two empty seats on the emergency exit row as they were boarding the May 22 flight to Dallas.
However, after the argument, they ended up returning to their original separate seats. She said that she has also filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Fatima didn't argue much but felt insulted. She said that the entire incident was being watched by other passengers and no one projected when they were being discriminated on religious grounds. "The hardest part was keeping my composure for three hours after being insulted," Fatima said.
Southwest in the Line of Fire
Fatmima said that the humiliation was not acceptable and despite protests and repeated complaints these things don't stop. "I took it just as a terrorist comment," Fatima said during the news conference. "If I were to say something like that, I would be kicked off the plane. I don't understand why she would say something like that. That makes me look like I am some kind of terrorist and I am not."
The Dallas-Fort Worth chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a chapter of the nation's largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization, has filed a lawsuit against Southwest Airlines. 'I'm doing this on behalf of myself and everyone else in my position,' Fatima said.
In the lawsuit, CAIR-DFW Executive Director Faizan Syed said they are looking to make sure the flight attendant is disciplined, an apology and for more training for Southwest employees. "This young lady Fatima was targeted not because she did anything wrong, but simply because of the same she looks and her faith and her religious tradition," Syed said.
"This is textbook religious discrimination and profiling. You have two sisters, one who wears the hijab and the other who does not, and both board at the same time. One is denied the right to sit where she wants, while the other is encouraged to take a seat based on nothing else then perceived religiosity," he added.
Southwest is yet to comment on the incident.