A Muslim woman wearing a hijab was forced off a Southwest Airlines flight after asking to switch seats with another passenger.
Hakima Abdulle was flying alone from Chicago to Seattle when she claims the flight attendant had her removed from the plane because of her religion.
“She was humiliated because of her religion and the way she dressed,” her husband Abukar Fadaw told WJZ.
A flight attendant allegedly told Abdulle she could not switch seats, even though the airline has an unassigned seating policy. She questioned the employee as to why it was not possible since the passenger next to her had agreed. Instead of providing an adequate response, the flight attendant had Abdulle removed from the plane, the Independent reports.
Abdulle, who doesn't speak much English, had her husband talk with the flight attendant on the phone when she was told to leave the plane.
"Can you please talk to me and tell me why she cannot take the flight?” Fadaw asked, according to WJZ. “They ignored me.”
At the gate, police asked the flight attendant if there was a reason for Abdulle being removed from the plane, to which she answered, “No,” adding that she did not “feel comfortable” with the passenger, according to the Independent.
Abdulle was rebooked on a flight to Seattle several hours later.
“She suffered acute distress and anxiety as a result of this experience. She was publicly humiliated before a plane full of passengers,” Zainab Chaudry, Maryland Outreach Manager at the Council on American Islamic Relations, said.
CAIR has called for an investigation of “bias motive” regarding the incident, as well as a formal apology from Southwest Airlines and a refund of the airfare to be given to Abdulle.
The couple’s lawyer, William Burgess, said the airline violated federal law by discriminating against Abdulle based on her religion.
Southwest Airlines issued a statement following the incident:
Information available, collected at the time of the event, indicates that our employees followed proper procedures in response to this customer's actions while onboard the aircraft. Out of respect for the customer's privacy, we will not share specifics about her conduct or travel experience.
We are not in the business of removing passengers from flights without reason, our goal is to get each one of our Customers to their final destination safely. We are responsible for the comfort of all passengers and do not tolerate discrimination of any kind.