“You Are Now Free To Move About The Country” became a wildly outdated slogan for Southwest Airlines as of this week. Perhaps the addition of the phrase “If Not A Minority” would help.
The world’s largest low-cost airline carrier allowed a few racist passengers to oust Arabic-speaking and Muslim passengers on two separate flights this week, quickly becoming the official airline for the country’s bigots.
Two men, 29-year-old Maher Khalil and 28-year-old Anas Ayyad, who both moved to Philadelphia 15 years ago from Palestine, were speaking Arabic before their flight in the terminal this week, reports NBC Philadelphia. After overhearing them, another passenger on their flight approached the gate agent, demanding they be removed from the flight. The agent acquiesced, telling the pair that they wouldn’t be allowed to board because a passenger was afraid to fly with them.
Not knowing what else to do, Khalil called 911, telling police that he’d been racially profiled.
“If that person doesn’t feel safe, let them take the bus,” Khalil, who owns two pizza parlors in Philadelphia, said to a Southwest Airlines gate agent, according to NBC Philadelphia. “We’re American citizens just like everybody else.”
After a delay and questioning, the men were allowed to board the flight. But this wasn’t the only instance of Southwest allowing racist passengers to pick the flight roster. Passengers on a second Southwest flight from Chicago to Houston Wednesday refused to allow six Muslims on the flight, causing the Muslim passengers to have to be rebooked on another flight.
In response to the events, the company issued the following statement:
Safety is our primary focus, and our Employees are trained to make decisions to ensure that safety, and to safeguard the security of our Crews and Customers on every flight.
Southwest did not respond to Gawker’s request for comment by press time. We will update this post when we hear back.
Update 3:41 p.m.
Southwest Airlines sent Gawker the following statement. It did not address the second flight, nor answer a question regarding whether incidents like this will happen in the future.
We had a slight delay boarding, lasting only a few minutes, while we completed a brief passenger conversation. All customers were boarded and traveled on to their scheduled destination, Philadelphia. Southwest Employees welcome hundreds of millions of Customers onboard annually. We are responsible for the comfort of all passengers and do not tolerate discrimination of any kind.
Update 4:41 p.m.
Southwest has issued a second statement, addressing the flight that the six Muslim passengers were not allowed to board.
On Wednesday, Southwest Flight #126 from Chicago (Midway) to Houston (Hobby) was delayed departing the gate after several passengers refused to follow Crew instructions. Reports indicate that the situation involved seating arrangements and repeated attempts from those passengers involved to save seats and rearrange other passengers onboard the aircraft. Our crews were unable to resolve the situation without delaying the flight so we rebooked the customers on a later flight that same day.