HomeCommunity IssuesGroups condemn Southwest Airline's treatment of Muslim passenger

Groups condemn Southwest Airline’s treatment of Muslim passenger

Southwest Airlines
Photo by By MamaGeek

South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT), joined 30 other national and local civil rights organizations, including the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), in condemning Southwest Airlines’ treatment of pregnant Muslim American professor Anila Daulatzai, in September.

In a letter to Southwest Airlines and the Maryland Transportation Authority Police (MDTA) last week, the coalition of civil rights organizations wrote the following:

“Our organizations are appalled at the mistreatment of Anila Daulatzai by Southwest Airlines and the Maryland Transportation Authority Police (MDTA). We support Ms. Daulatzai’s demands and call for changes in policy and practice on the part of Southwest Airlines and the MDTA.

“Communities of color unfortunately endure profiling at airports and on airlines on a regular basis. In fact, Muslim, Arab, South Asian and Sikh passengers have experienced a disproportionately high level of discrimination in the 16 years since September 11, 2001. ‘Flying while brown’ means that passengers are often subjected to secondary screenings, interrogations, bodily searches, and removal from airplanes for no legitimate reason at all.

“Anila Daulatzai, a pregnant woman who is a Pakistani American and a Muslim, is the latest person to face this type of airline discrimination. In her case, Southwest Airlines staff insisted that Daulatzai deplane her flight because of a dog allergy even though she had made it clear that her allergies were not life-threatening. Instead of believing Daulatzai’s own statements about her physical conditions, Southwest Airlines personnel chose to escalate the situation by alerting the Maryland Transportation Authority Police (MDTA). According to Daulatzai, MDTA law enforcement agents pulled her from her seat via her belt loop, tore her pants, and dragged her through the aisle. They then allegedly made racist remarks about immigrants and charged her with disorderly conduct and other criminal charges.

“Ms. Daulatzai’s mistreatment by Southwest Airlines is part of a pattern and practice of profiling. Between 2015 and 2016, over a period of just six months, several Muslim, Arab, and South Asian passengers reported incidents of being rebooked for their appearance, removed from a flight for speaking in Arabic in a private phone conversation or simply for asking to switch seats.

“We call upon the MDTA to drop the criminal charges against Ms. Daulatzai. We also call upon both the MDTA and Southwest Airlines to provide adequate and appropriate restitution to Ms. Daulatzai. In addition, we demand that both the MDTA and Southwest Airlines make systemic changes to their policies and protocols. We call upon both entities to disclose their protocols for responding to passenger-related situations aboard flights, including their training and practices around de-escalation and mediation tactics. We continue to demand that Southwest Airlines training policies be disclosed publicly, and that personnel at all levels be provided with mandatory and regular training on conflict resolution, de-escalation tactics, anti-Blackness, Islamophobia, and anti-racism. We call upon the MDTA to engage in regular training on Islamophobia, systemic racism, xenophobia, anti-Blackness, and implicit bias.”

Other organizations that signed in agreement include ethnic and gender-oriented groups voicing their displeasure with Southwest Airlines.

In a statement to The Washington Post, the Maryland Transportation Authority Police said “despite her clear attempt to resist a law enforcement officer, (Daulatzai) was professionally removed from the aircraft within the guidelines of the MDTA Police. This remains an open case that will be handled in the appropriate venue, not through various media channels.”

Southwest has stated the company is “disheartened by the way this situation unfolded and the customer’s removal by local law enforcement officers.”

In a press release, SAALT stated the organization reached out to Southwest multiple times in the past year expressing concerns about racial profiling. SAALT stated the responses were all “unsatisfactory,” leading the organization to terminate its seven year relationship with the airline company and give back $10,000 in grant funding.

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