American-born and raised Muslim woman Fatima Altakrouri says she was discriminated against by a Southwest Airlines attendant for wearing her hijab.
The Dallas News reports that Altakrouri and her sister, who was not wearing a hijab, were seated next to each other in two empty seats on a Southwest Airlines flight to Dallas. Fatima says she was told that she wasn’t allowed to sit in the seat, which was in the emergency exit row, because she “couldn’t speak English and would bring the whole plane down in an emergency.”
The flight attendant made the comment despite having a conversation with Fatima in English.
“I took it just as a terrorist comment,” Fatima Altakrouri said during a press conference that was hosted by the Dallas-Fort-Worth chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. “If I were to say something like that, I would be kicked off the plane. I don’t understand why she would say something like that. That makes me look like I am some kind of terrorist and I am not.”
She went on to describe the incident as “very disappointing,” and that she felt “kicked out and intimidated” by the attendant. “As a flight attendant, you should be ready to meet all walks of life, every religion, any nationality,” she added. Throughout the experience, her sister Muna Kowni repeatedly informed the attendant that Altakrouri did, in fact, speak English. “She [the flight attendant] said well you can sit [in the exit row] but she can’t,” explained Kowni.
Altakrouri has filed a complaint with Southwest Airlines, spoke with the manager at the airport upon landing, and filed a complaint with the Department of Transporation. When they confronted the flight attendant at the end of the flight, they were told to leave the plane.
“Southwest neither condones nor tolerates discrimination of any kind,” said Southwest’s director of external communication, Brandy King. “Since Southwest Airlines’ inception, we have put People first and maintain a mutual respect for our fellow Southwest Airlines Employees, our Customers, and the diverse communities that we serve. We apologize to any Customer who has a less than positive travel experience on Southwest and will look into the specific passenger situation referenced.”