A Muslim woman wearing a Hijab alleged a Southwest Airlines flight attendant discriminated against her. The airline employee allegedly stated she couldn't sit in the emergency exit row because she didn't speak English.
But the woman's sister and traveling companion, who was not in a Hijab, was allowed to sit there. The women had both been speaking Arabic as they boarded.
According to WFAA, Fatima Altakrouri was boarding a Southwest Airlines flight with her sister, Muna Kowni. They saw two empty seats together in the emergency exit row.
A flight attendant approached them and said Altakrouri couldn't sit there because:
"[She] couldn't speak English and would bring the whole plane down in an emergency"
Kowni said twice to the flight attendant her sister could speak English and Altakrouri also replied to the woman in English.
You can see ABC8 news coverage here:
"And [the flight attendant] said, 'Well, you can sit [in the exit row] but she can't'."
"So, that's when I had to go back and didn't want to be far from where my sister is."
"We were really patient, sitting for three hours being quiet, not saying anything after we got insulted."
Altakrouri said in a press conference:
"That's what makes it even more appalling."
"The fact that I am actually corresponding with her in the language that she is [addressing] me with, and she continues to say that I do not speak English, is very upsetting in my opinion."
The sisters went back to their original separate seating assignments.
They asked to speak to the flight attendant and a supervisor upon landing, but were not afforded the courtesy.
"And once we arrived, we're like, 'Ya know what, let's go to her, talk to her, maybe she'll say sorry, maybe something like that'."
"But she was like, 'Get off the plane'."
The flight attendant made an already stressful situation worse. The sisters—both born and raised in the United States— were flying to Dallas, Texas to see their mother who was in the ICU.
In the above video shared by USA TODAY, Altakrouri said she didn't feel like an American after the religious and xenophobic targeting even though she was born in the USA.
Southwest spokesperson Brandy King told a different version of the incident.
"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."
People were outraged by the incident.
Unfortunately, no other passengers did say anything when it happened.
Altakrouri and Kowni expressed their sadness and frustration over the incident.
Executive director of CAIR-Texas DFW, Faizan Syed, said in a statement:
"This is textbook religious discrimination and profiling."
"You have two sisters, one who wears the hijab and the other who does not, and both board at the same time."
"One is denied the right to sit where she wants, while the other is encouraged to take a seat based on nothing else then perceived religiosity."
WFAA reports Altakrouri filed her complaint with the U.S. Department of Transportation.