A University of California, Berkeley student and Iraqi refugee has accused a major airline of discrimination.
Khairuldeen Makhzoomi was set to fly from Los Angeles to Oakland, return to campus and attend classes on April 6. However, he was booted from Southwest Airlines flight 4260 — after speaking Arabic, he alleged.
The 26-year-old fled Iraq in 2002 after his father, an Iraqi diplomat, was killed under Saddam Hussein's regime, the Daily Californian reports. Makhzoomi's family lived in Jordan until the United States granted them asylum.
The day before the incident, Makhzoomi attended a dinner at the Los Angeles World Affairs Council with Secretary-General of the United Nations Ban Ki-moon. He called his uncle to tell them about the event before the flight took off and that's when his troubles began.
"At the end of my call I said, 'Inshallah, I will call you,' and he was like, 'Call me when you get home.' I was like 'Inshallah, Inshallah,' which means God willing," Makhzoomi said.
However, another passenger thought she heard Makhzoomi saying "martyr" in Arabic – a word that is often linked to Jihad and terrorism.
Moments later, he was removed from the plane, detained and searched by security officers, and questioned by the FBI. He was also denied service by Southwest Airlines.
"I was like, at least inside my brain, I was reciting, 'Innocent until proven guilty,' because I was overwhelmed at what happened," Makhzoomi recalled.
He underscored that his experience is a symptom of a larger problem.
"This is what Islamaphobia has gotten this country into," Makhzoomi said. "Anyone can report anyone."
Now, Makhzoomi says he only wants one thing.
"All I need is an apology to say, 'We are sorry we singled you out because [of] one person who felt threatened,'" he said.
According to a Southwest Airlines statement, however, crew members decided to "investigate potentially threatening comments made onboard our aircraft."
It is not the company's policy to "publicly share specifics of the event," the statement said, continuing: "We regret any less than positive experience onboard our aircraft … Southwest neither condones nor tolerates discrimination of any kind."
Read Southwest Airlines' entire statement below:
Prior to gate departure of Flight 4260, our Flight Crew decided to investigate potentially threatening comments made onboard our aircraft. Based upon the reported comments and further discussion, our Flight Crew made the decision to deny boarding to this Customer. We understand local law enforcement spoke with that Passenger at a later time. To respect the privacy of those involved, our policy is to not publicly share specifics of the event, as we try to work with individual passengers to address concerns or feedback regarding their experience. We regret any less than positive experience onboard our aircraft.
Southwest Employees welcome onboard hundreds of millions of Customers each year. We wouldn't remove passengers from flights without a collaborative decision rooted in established procedures. We aim to safely transport every Customer while maintaining the comfort of all. Southwest neither condones nor tolerates discrimination of any kind.