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.
American-born and raised Muslim woman says she was discriminated against by a Southwest Airlines attendant for wear… https://t.co/QcYdrX9O49— Complex (@Complex) 1622669553.0
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.
Muslim American woman says on a flight to Texas, a Southwest Airlines attendant discriminated her, not letting her… https://t.co/PxkoHqYFdF— Dallas Observer (@Dallas Observer) 1622755821.0
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.
A Muslim woman says Southwest Airlines did not allow her to sit in an exit row on a flight because she was wearing… https://t.co/0ql004dD08— USA TODAY (@USA TODAY) 1622711400.0
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.
Muslim woman files complaint against Southwest Airlines after being targeted for wearing hijab. 🧕🏽 These incident… https://t.co/NlRIfg7VCT— Muslim (@Muslim) 1622647008.0
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."
@USATODAY Brandy of (SWA) trying to talk her way out of that one.. cute. It’s an airline based in Texas what did you expect?— Steve (@Steve) 1622726438.0
@DushyantkiB @USATODAY She is hiding her hair! Supposing she were wearing a hat.. That would be the same??— Randa.kh (@Randa.kh) 1622712249.0
People were outraged by the incident.
Not the first time Southwest Airlines has done this. English becomes a default language of security and those who… https://t.co/6KJd6jNyt4— Kamran Khan (@Kamran Khan) 1622744419.0
The reality is she was never a danger. Drunk, English Monolingual, aggressive Brits are almost never held to a similar standard.— Kamran Khan (@Kamran Khan) 1622745015.0
@Islamchannel @CAIRNational Disgusting. Please sue them well. Justice maa shaa Allah— Olá Yemi (@Olá Yemi) 1622740275.0
@RawStory @morgfair Damn it America! Wake the F up! This crap is getting very old!— 🇺🇸You Cant Handle The Truth🇺🇸Ex Republican🇺🇸 (@🇺🇸You Cant Handle The Truth🇺🇸Ex Republican🇺🇸) 1622595490.0
@Complex Nothing new, Muslims have been discriminated against for years, yet somehow some people still call them terrorists— Ilyes Berkane (@Ilyes Berkane) 1622669639.0
@Dallas_Observer What a terrible event. Nobody defended her when it happened?— Elizabeth Wells (@Elizabeth Wells) 1622699855.0
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.