Note from Rafik Beekun: Air Tran refused to rebook a Muslim family after some overly suspicious passengers misinterpreted comments made by a couple of family members leading to their being removed from the flight, and to their being immediately cleared by the FBI. Several members of one family were detained and surrounded in the pre-boarding area by armed guards, and were not allowed to get food for their children or even to change the diaper on their infant. While the FBI and TSA personnel were extremely courteous and understanding, AirTran personnel were, according to the Muslim passengers, very less helpful (see statement from airline at bottom of this post). Muslim and other fair-minded passengers should boycott AirTran and choose to fly other airlines if possible.
WASHINGTON (CNN) — AirTran Airways apologized Friday to members of a Muslim family for kicking them off a plane and refusing to rebook them despite requests from FBI agents who had cleared them of wrongdoing.
The FBI interviewed the family and cleared them of wrongdoing.
“We regret that the issue escalated to the heightened security level it did,” AirTran said in a statement Friday afternoon. “But we trust everyone understands that the security and the safety of our passengers is paramount.” Read the full statement
The airline said it had refunded the family’s money and offered to fly the family home to Washington free.
One family member, Kashif Irfan, said Friday he was “very appreciative and surprised” by AirTran‘s apology. “It’s a very generous gesture,” he said.
The statement was an abrupt about-face for the airline, which three hours earlier had issued a press release with an unapologetic description of the incident.
In that statement, the airline said it did not re-book the family only because the security concern had not been resolved, and because one member of the group “became irate and made inappropriate comments.”
That account differed from accounts from the family and the FBI. The FBI said agents interviewed the family, resolved the security concerns and then tried to help re-schedule the flight with the airline. The FBI ultimately helped the family book a flight on US Airways. Watch how Muslims find climate of fear at airport »
The dispute occurred about 1 p.m. Thursday as Atif Irfan and his brother Kashif Irfan boarded AirTran flight 175 at Reagan National Airport near Washington for a trip to Orlando, Florida. They were accompanied by their wives, a sister and three children.
Federal officials say a passenger on the plane notified a flight attendant about a suspicious conversation, and the flight attendant notified the pilot and Federal air marshals who were aboard. The pilot asked the air marshals to remove the passengers, said Transportation Security Administration spokesman Christopher White.
Original Unapologetic Statement of AirTran
From AirTran website
AirTran Airways Issues Statement Regarding Flight 175 on January 1, 2009
ORLANDO, Fla., Jan. 2 /PRNewswire-FirstCall/ — AirTran Airways, a subsidiary of AirTran Holdings, Inc. (NYSE: AAI), today issued the following statement regarding AirTran flight 175 originating at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport on January 1, 2009.
At departure time, the Captain of flight 175 informed the airline that there were two federal air marshals onboard who contacted local and federal Washington law enforcement officials for a security related issue onboard the aircraft involving verbal comments made by a passenger and overheard by other passengers. The airline then advised the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). It was determined that all 104 passengers onboard must deplane and passengers, crew, baggage and the aircraft should be re-screened. After the re-screening of the passengers, crew, bags and the aircraft, 95 passengers were allowed to reboard the aircraft and nine were detained for interrogation by the local law enforcement officials, the FBI and the TSA. Flight 175 departed nearly two hours late and arrived safely at its destination.
Later in the day, six of the nine detained passengers approached the customer service counter and asked to be rebooked to Orlando. At the time, the airline had not been notified by the authorities that the passengers were cleared to fly and would not rebook them until receiving said clearance. One passenger in the party became irate and made inappropriate comments. The local law enforcement officials came over and escorted the passengers away from the gate podium.
AirTran Airways complied with all TSA, law enforcement and Homeland Security directives and had no discretion in the matter. The nine passengers involved were all offered full refunds and may fly with AirTran Airways again after having been released from questioning and cleared by the law enforcement officials.
Address of AirTran
If you wish to write to Airtran a note of protest for their treatment of Muslim passengers, please write to:
AirTran Holdings, Inc.
9955 AirTran Boulevard
Orlando, FL 32827