January 2nd, 2009
10:38 AM ET

'Safest' seat remarks get Muslim family kicked off plane

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/US/01/01/family.grounded/art.airtran.gi.jpg caption="A Muslim family was removed from an AirTran flight after a conversation about the safest place to sit."]

Mike M. Ahlers

A Muslim family removed from an airliner Thursday after passengers became concerned about their conversation say AirTran officials refused to rebook them, even after FBI investigators cleared them of wrongdoing.

Atif Irfan said federal authorities removed eight members of his extended family and a friend after passengers heard them discussing the safest place to sit and misconstrued the nature of the conversation.

Irfan, a U.S. citizen and tax attorney, said he was "impressed with the professionalism" of the FBI agents who questioned him, but said he felt mistreated when the airline refused to book the family for a later flight.


soundoff (19 Responses)
  1. jim Fallbrook

    The airlines have the right to refuse entry. As we know 85% of muslims are not civilized. With that said, I believe all muslims should be profiled. If I was a civilized muslim, I would insist on being profiled. The airlines did the right thing.

    January 2, 2009 at 5:44 pm |
  2. Annie Kate

    Good grief – one of the segments on the news the past few weeks was where in an airplane it was the safest to sit. I always wonder myself when flying where the safest place to sit is. I think the airline owes this family an apology and each of the family members a free ticket to go to their original destination. I certainly won't be considering this airline for any flights after hearing how they treated this family.

    January 2, 2009 at 4:40 pm |
  3. Chris Smith - La Porte, Indiana

    I suggest that viewers ought to boycott AirTrans until they issue a public apology. The treatment of these folks, traveling with children, is unforgiveable. While the removal may be OK as a precaution, the subsequent refusal to re-seat these families was blatant racism. The fact that the FBI vouched for them should have been sufficient.

    I am reminded of the "terrorist" comments made against then-Senator Barack Obama by the tossle-haired lady at one of John McCain's town hall meetings. Confusion... Ignorance... Climate of fear... With the election of an African-American as president, I thought that our country had made this sort of occurrance a thing of the past. Obviously, not.

    January 2, 2009 at 4:35 pm |
  4. Ari

    This is by no means an isolated case. Just last week, JetBlue and the TSA settled the lawsuit resulting from the August 2006 Arabic t-shirt incident. The settlement was for $240,000. Ultimately, yesterday's AirTran incident can be chalked up to just another case of Flying While Brown. AirTran may find this racist lapse in judgment to be very expensive and learn the lesson the hard way like JetBlue did.

    January 2, 2009 at 4:28 pm |
  5. Linda Benedict

    That is stupid. I have made the same comments boarding the plane. How racist! No one kicked me off the plane..

    January 2, 2009 at 4:27 pm |
  6. Mike

    There will come a time when this country realizes that being politically correct cant get in the way of our national security. The second we become complacent we will pay for it

    January 2, 2009 at 4:21 pm |
  7. Sassygrma

    I would be concerned if I overheard the conversation. The people are only concerned for their lives. Remember , 9/11 and we all know there are terriosts that can kill our people here in our country. The people who made the remark are well aware of their standing, and their religion. Any other country would have thrown them in jail, and that would have been the end of them. Why should not people be concerned about their safety anywhere. Any remark that indicates harm to others , Should be considered serious.These people have women and children carry bombs abd gernade, and they are taught to believe in glory for their religion with death. No body out there really knows WHO is Looking for A safe place. could be that sweet faced kid or the woman who does not want to be recognized, The people have their rights to be worried, and complain.. The Airlines are correct in the manner in which they handled this incident.

    January 2, 2009 at 3:36 pm |
  8. Melissa B ~ California

    The only thing that could have been worse than Air Tran removing the muslim passengers because they feared for the safety of the rest of the people onboard, is if they decided it was politically correct to do nothing and later the plane exploded in mid-air! They were perceived to be talking and behaving in a suspicious manner. People too often confuse racial profiling with religious profiling. Muslims seek to kill Americans not because of our race, it's because of our predominately Judeo-Christian religion. It is a sad fact of past and present human history. It is better to be alive with caution rather than be politely dead.

    January 2, 2009 at 3:29 pm |
  9. Bev C.

    If they were planning to blow up the plane, they wouldn't be talking about the safest place to sit on the plane. I'm afraid racial profiling will never go away, especially as to Muslims.

    January 2, 2009 at 3:26 pm |
  10. Christopher

    I am so fed up with those who whine about profiling. Last I checked, it was not a cuacasian, black, hispanic, asian, russian, nor any western european who engaged in any suicide terrorist attack. It WAS, however, Arab Muslims who attacked the world trade center (both times), crashed four jumbo jets on 9/11, attacked the USS Cole, attacked multiple U.S. embassies and consulates around the globe, destroyed the U.S. military dormatories in Saudi Arabia, and many many other acts of terrorism. You may wish to cite the Oklahoma City incident, however, this does not qualify as the perpetrators did not kill themselves in the attack. No matter how derranged U.S. citizens who engage in terrorist acts may be, none of them are stupid enough to kill themselves in the process. If a fox kills your chickens, you don't go hunting for a coyote, bear, or mountain lion. You watch for a fox...any fox that poses a threat to your livestock.

    January 2, 2009 at 3:25 pm |
  11. Neeraj

    I've been profiled because I am Indian and often get mistaken to be Arab by your average dull-witted TSA employee. But I think anyone who says anything remotely suspiciously needs to be screened. I think Air Tran was absolutely right in erring on the side of caution. However, all they needed to do when the affair was cleared up was to apologize for it (any skin off their back?) with a few vouchers.

    This is the US for crying out loud. People have PhDs in political correctness.

    January 2, 2009 at 2:57 pm |
  12. Garret

    Yes. It's getting rediculous at airports now. I was berated while walking through the metal detector as my socks on my shoeless feet made me slide through. I was told to walk through multiple times without sliding. I guess there is a malfunction where the machine can't detect metal objects if you slide your foot.

    January 2, 2009 at 2:13 pm |
  13. Cathy

    Unfortunately, it is the way of the world today. It may have been a harmless comment, but made by a muslim family, people WILL take notice. However, once cleared, I think the airline should have booked the family on a later flight.

    January 2, 2009 at 2:01 pm |
  14. Cate Nelson, Calgary, Canada

    I think we are oversensitive about racial profiling.
    I recall a time many years ago when planes were being hijacked to go to Cuba. I was on a plane in Miami waiting to take off when an enthusiastic, young, white, English – speaking male called the stewardess over and said in a loud, joking voice: " What is our travel time to Havana?" There were no smiles and within a very few seconds airport guards were on board the plane and removed the young man. Airlines are very sensitive to any suggestion of violence and even more so now following 9/11. I think the Muslim family should not feel it was racial profiling but their conversation which caused them the inconvenience.
    Love your show!

    January 2, 2009 at 1:55 pm |
  15. Enrique

    Wow. Happy new year, eh?

    January 2, 2009 at 1:50 pm |
  16. GF, Los Angeles

    I understand the passengers concerns when the comment and dialogue was exchanged however after they've been cleared by the FBI they should've been allowed to board another flight. This is a reminder to us all to be mindful of what we say and do since it can be taken the wrong way.

    January 2, 2009 at 1:29 pm |
  17. Linda

    So ridiculous! you can't go around treating peopled like criminals just beacause of some over-zealous idiot notion of what's right or wrong.
    equality for all, surely.

    January 2, 2009 at 1:27 pm |
  18. Hadiya

    Terrorists don't bring their family with them on a flight.

    this is profiling to the max..there is no excuse the airline can give. their comments were harmless, and if it came from somebody that didn't have a Muslim/Mideastern appearance it wouldn't have been deemed anything and not noticed at all.

    its sad what our airlines have become....they are Americans and they treat them like terrorists just because of how they look.

    January 2, 2009 at 1:19 pm |
  19. Cindy

    Talk about racial profiling...GEEZE! This is a sad state indeed when you can't even speak without fear of being kicked off of a plane or arrested for making a harmless comment!


    January 2, 2009 at 12:54 pm |