We’re just going to file this in “things that never happened.”
A hijab-clad Muslim woman filed a complaint with the Department of Transportation claiming she was barred from sitting in an exit row seat because she would “bring down the plane in an emergency.”
Fatima Altakrouri was traveling from Fort Lauderdale, Florida to Dallas, Texas on May 22 with her sister (who does not wear a hijab) when a flight attendant told them they could not sit in the emergency row, USA Today reported.
The sisters, who were both born in the US and speak Arabic, said this incident made them feel like they weren’t Americans.
Fatima Altakrouri and Muna Kowni were traveling from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, to Dallas on May 22, when they spotted the last two seats together in the emergency exit row.
Altakrouri said that at first, she didn’t think anything of it when she asked a flight attendant if they could sit there and was told no.
“As I was walking, I overheard her saying to the passengers in the seats that were around that area, laughing, saying that ‘If we sat her there, she’d bring down the plane in an emergency,” said Altakrouri, who wears a hijab. “You can imagine the shock I was in at that time.”
Altakrouri said she wasn’t sure she heard that right, but then her sister followed up.
“She asked her, ‘Why can’t my sister sit here?’” Altakrouri said the flight attendant responded, “She cannot sit here because she can’t speak English.”
“I told her twice, ‘She speaks English,” Kowni added. “She’s spoken English in front of her.”
“We both spoke Arabic; we both spoke English,” said Kowni, who is also Muslim but does not wear a hijab. “So, why didn’t you tell me I don’t speak English? I spoke Arabic like her, too. … So it couldn’t be any more clear than that when it comes to discrimination.”
Muna Kowi said that the flight attendant screamed at them to “get off the plane” when they landed in Dallas.
In a statement to USA TODAY, Southwest spokesperson Brandy King said: “Our internal reports from the flight do not support claims made by the passenger regarding comments or decisions being made based upon appearance. The safety of our passengers is paramount, and individuals seated in an exit row are required to verbally indicate that they can perform certain duties in flight. 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. Therefore, as a courtesy, the Crew offered her an alternate seat.”