As I learned on a recent trip to Las Vegas, Airtran is a rather lousy “budget” airline. But beyond the petty complaints one could raise against practically any airline these days, the company appears to have gone above and beyond its competitors in using fear of terrorism to engage in what appears to be a clear case of anti-Muslim bigotry:
WASHINGTON (CNN) — A Muslim family removed from an airliner Thursday after passengers became concerned about their conversation say AirTran officials refused to rebook them, even after FBI investigators cleared them of wrongdoing.
Atif Irfan said federal authorities removed eight members of his extended family and a friend after passengers heard them discussing the safest place to sit and misconstrued the nature of the conversation.
Irfan, a U.S. citizen and tax attorney, said he was “impressed with the professionalism” of the FBI agents who questioned him, but said he felt mistreated when the airline refused to book the family for a later flight.
AirTran Airways late Thursday said they acted properly and that the family was offered full refunds and can fly with AirTran again.
“AirTran Airways complied with all TSA, law enforcement and Homeland Security directives and had no discretion in the matter,” the company said in a prepared statement.
Family members said FBI agents tried to work it out with the airline, but to no avail.
“The FBI agents actually cleared our names,” said Inayet Sahin, Irfan’s sister-in-law. “They went on our behalf and spoke to the airlines and said, ‘There is no suspicious activity here. They are clear. Please let them get on a flight so they can go on their vacation,’ and they still refused.”
“The airline told us that we can’t fly their airline,” Irfan said.
Though irrational fear is to be expected at U.S. airports, especially when the speakers on the PA system are continually braying about “terrorist alert level orange” and guards carry around intimidating semi-automatic weapons, but it should be obvious that this family never would have been treated this way had they been pasty white Midwesterners. Because they happen to be a shade darker and practice the world’s third largest religion, however, benign comments about plane safety are conflated into terrorist threats.