‘Racist’ Southwest Airlines flight attendant threatens to kick Muslim woman off plane

Helen Coffey
The Southwest flight had 'life-critical cargo' on board: Wikipedia/Eric Salard

A Muslim woman was threatened with being kicked off a flight after she asked to sit with her family, her husband claims.

Mehdi Hasan, a British journalist based in the US, said his wife was “in tears” after a Southwest Airlines flight attendant told her she’d be escorted off the plane for asking if another passenger would be willing to swap seats.

He claimed the incident, which occurred during a flight from Houston and Washington DC on 1 December, was racially motivated.

Southwest operates an open seat policy, whereby passengers can sit where they like on a first-come, first-served basis.

“Hey @SouthwestAir: not a good look for your flight attendant on SW5539 to DC last night to loudly tell a brown woman in a headscarf she’ll be ‘escorted off the plane’ for making people feel ‘uncomfortable’ – because she wanted to sit with her husband and kids,” Mr Hasan tweeted in a Twitter thread that quickly went viral.

“The flight attendant called ground staff onto the plane, complained about the Muslim woman – my wife! – to them, and escalated rather than de-escalated the situation – simply because my wife politely asked a guy if he’d give up his seat for our family (which he was fine with!).”

According to Mr Hasan, fellow passengers supported the family, with one asking aloud, “Why is [the flight attendant] escalating this?” and another telling them the crew member “treated you like a venomous snake”.

“Thanks for ruining the end of our Thanksgiving trip and leaving my wife in tears – because she wanted us all to sit together as a family while your flight attendant wanted to single her out and humiliate her,” he wrote, adding that he doesn’t plan on flying with the airline again.

In a later string of tweets, the journalist said he was even more angry having received a response from Southwest.

He claimed the airline had offered a private apology but refused to say sorry publicly and offered travel vouchers that didn’t cover the costs of their flights.

“I’m now more furious than I was on Sunday,” he wrote. “Then it was a rude and racist flight attendant. Now it’s an entire airline, an entire company, that seems unconcerned by, even maybe covering up, racism and harassment onboard. Shame on you.

“Southwest Airlines just haven’t taken what happened to my wife, or other POC in similar situations, seriously. No recognition of racism, or targeting; no pledge of anti-bias training, no public apology.”

An airline spokesperson told The Sun: “Once we learned about the customer’s social media message, we began to research the flight and gather information internally.

“We also reached out to the customer directly to discuss his family’s experience prior to departure.

“From our initial discussions, we understand that some passengers on Flight 5539 were involved in a disagreement over seat selection near the end of boarding. (Southwest does not assign seats; customers select their seats as they board the aircraft.)

“The flight crew requested a customer service supervisor come onboard to help address the situation and the conversation was resolved before the plane left the gate.

“The family was able to sit together and the flight arrived safely in Washington, D.C. on Sunday night. We remain in communication with the customer who sent the tweet and are working to address his concerns directly.”

The Independent has contacted Southwest Airlines and Mr Hasan for further comment.

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