AirTran Later Apologized For The Incident, Offered To Pay
What started out as a trip from
Washington, DC to a religious retreat in Florida turned out to be
nightmarish experience for a Muslim family, as they were
interrogated by federal air marshals and an airline refused them
Atif Irfan, traveling with relatives and a family friend last
Thursday, said they were boarding an AirTran flight when overheard
by other passengers, discussing which seats to sit in -
specifically, which seats were "safer" - and reported what was
misinterpreted as "suspicious" dialog to airline personnel.
Irfan, his family and friend were then escorted off the plane by
federal air marshals who questioned them. But FBI officials found
nothing amiss, and cleared the group to re-board - except AirTran
would have no part of it. Irfan said, "They told us we cannot fly
Irfan and his fellow travelers were compelled to book a flight
on another airline to make their journey. All of the other
passengers and crew were re-screened before the flight was allowed
to depart, putting it about two hours behind schedule, the BBC
"My wife and I are generally very careful about what we say when
we step on the plane," Irfan said, adding that because of the men's
beards and the women's traditional Muslim headscarves, they have
received suspicious looks in the past. "We're used to this sort of
thing -- but obviously not to this extent."
A statement later released by AirTran said, "We apologize to all
of the passengers -- to the nine who had to undergo extensive
interviews from the authorities, and to the 95 who ultimately made
the flight. We regret that the issue escalated to the heightened
security it did, (but) the steps taken were necessary."
The airline also said it would reimburse the Muslim family for
their tickets, and fly them back to Washington, DC for free.