‘This is absurd, unacceptable and un-American’
Two Muslim passengers onboard an American Airlines flight have said they were racially profiled after the service was cancelled due to “safety and security concerns”.
Abderraoof Alkhawaldeh and Issam Abdallah alleged that cabin crew grounded the plane because they were “not comfortable” flying with the two men.
“It was the most horrible, humiliating day of my life,“ said Mr Abdallah, speaking at a press conference hosted by the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
“It’s put a lot of stress on me and my family; it’s hard to sleep some nights,” added Mr Alkhawaldeh, breaking down in tears during his statement. “Those who are responsible must be held accountable.”
The two men were travelling separately but recognised each other on their flight from Birmingham, Alabama, to Dallas, Texas, and waved at each other across the aircraft.
After several announcements that the flight was delayed due to “maintenance” issues, Mr Abdallah went to the toilet.
He said that when he came back out, a flight attendant appeared to be “eavesdropping” on him.
“When I opened the door after I finished, I was really surprised to find the flight attendant by the door, eavesdropping. It was a big shock, but I went back to my seat,” he said.
Ten minutes later, there was an announcement that the flight was cancelled and all passengers exited the plane.
“It was chaos”, said Mr Abdallah, with those taken off the flight told they would be flying three hours later on a 12.40pm service instead.
A man in a suit, who “seemed like a security guy from the airport”, approached both men separately, asking each about their respective trips to Alabama.
Mr Alkhawaldeh and Mr Abdallah headed to Starbucks for a coffee to wait out the delay. But Mr Abdallah claimed airport police were watching their every move.
“You could tell they were following us everywhere,” he said.
Once the pair were seated at their new gate, a man who identified himself as an FBI agent asked Mr Abdallah if he could talk to him in a separate security area, and said his luggage would be rechecked.
According to Mr Abdallah, the agent said cabin crew on the flight had called the police because they “were not comfortable” flying with him and Mr Alkhawaldeh onboard.
When he asked why, Mr Abdallah was told it was because he had flushed the toilet twice during his visit to the restroom.