Flying While Muslim is Hard in This Country

Two Muslim men had their American Eagle flight cancelled last Saturday because one of the men – an AAdvantage Executive Platinum member – used the plane’s lavatory while the flight was delayed on the ground, and because passengers and crew don’t like flying with Muslims.

Two Dallas-area Muslim men say their American Airlines flight was canceled because the crew “didn’t feel comfortable” after they waved to one another boarding a flight from Birmingham, Ala., to DFW International Airport.

When they got off, they said they were trailed by law enforcement officers, interviewed by an FBI agent and had their bags searched again by TSA during their trip Saturday.

According to an airline spokesperson the flight was canceled because of “concerns raised by a crew member and a passenger.”

The cause of concern? The man visiting the lavatory “flushed the toilet twice..caused suspicion.”

The worst part of the incident, in my view, is American’s response, (bolded emphasis mine):

American Airlines Flight 5886, operated by Mesa Airlines, from Birmingham to Dallas-Fort Worth on Sept. 14 was canceled due to concerns raised by a crew member and a passenger. American and all of its regional partners have an obligation to take safety and security concerns raised by crew members and passengers seriously. All customers on Flight 5886 were rebooked on the next flight to DFW. We’re committed to providing a positive experience to everyone who travels with us. Our team is working with Mesa to review this incident, and we have reached out to Mr. Alkhawaldeh and Mr. Abdallah to better understand their experience.

American says they have an obligation to take – and, apparently in this case, act upon – employee and customer prejudices as long as they’re masked by concern over safety.

9/11 had a tremendous impact on me. I’ll admit in the days following the terrorist attack, when I was back up in the sky, there were moments of nervousness. I could see fear on the faces of some flight attendants, and it was fear when Middle Eastern-looking passengers were on board. Their fear made me nervous. I realized it was irrational, but in those days it was difficult to process and easy to revert to simple strategies and narratives for doing so.

It’s 18 years later, and according to TSA there have been no active threats in recent years. The airline obligation to take racism seriously expired a long time ago, unless it’s disciplining their own employees for their racism. (In this case of course it was Mesa’s employees, and not American’s but American should be addressing this with their contract partner.)

Whether it’s Southwest Airlines kicking a Muslim woman off a flight for changing seats, Alaska Airlines kicking off a man for looking ‘Arabic and scary’ or an Italian University of Pennsylania economist being kicked off an American flight because a passenger thought he looked Arabic and was doing math equations, “flying while Muslim” represents a real challenge in this country.

For future reference The Economist offered a helpful guide for determining if your seatmate is an economist or a terrorist (He refuses to listen to the safety announcement because “in the long run, we’re all dead”…).

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. […] “Flying while Muslim” is absolutely a thing. Here we have no idea whether the removal of this passenger was justified or not, since we don’t know why the decision was made. I’m reserving judgment until I learn more, though I’m of course open to it being for an improper purpose. At this point we only know that once the passenger was asked to leave she refused to do so. […]


  1. Gary

    I appreciate your insights on travel

    The focus lately on politics, however, is really disappointing. If I want a political screed I’ll watch CNN, Fox, or MSNBC rather than your site.

    I’ll note your statement of fact that passengers and crew don’t like flying with Muslims implies a statement of fact, rather than your opinion, and doesn’t attempt to sort through what the concerns were since you werent there. I presume they took cancelling a flight seriously.

    It’s a bit like the man claiming racism because he was moved out of first for an ESA dog when he said he was allergic when we all know that is how it is handled for everyone. Or the woman complaining she was being profiled as middle eastern when the FA refused to give her an can of soda without opening it when we all know that’s normal.

    Columns like this do nothing other than promote fear.

    Please stick to the travel.

  2. @R Smith

    Get outta here. If you buy that these guys got kicked off for a valid reason, you’re just as delusional as the people wanting them kicked off. Go to CNN, Fox and MSNBC. Nobody cares if you leave this site.

  3. Sucks! Not okay, but if it’s this bad in America, I can’t imagine traveling as a Muslim in China

  4. @R Smith,
    saying you watch Fox News tell us a lot about you. You can try to keep on hating Muslims and others but might have to encounter articles every now and then that question your views. If you do not want to think I would suggest sticking to Fox News

  5. rather telling how certain commenters here apparently believe sticking to travel means sticking to the experiences of white people traveling.

  6. Americans aren’t afraid of people who speak out against all the murders and hate that Islamists continue to wreak on Americans. If we saw Muslims actually condemning the constant Islamic murders & death threats to America, Americans would dis-associate Muslims with murder and hate. Jihad is a mental illness, and no travel blogger should be telling Americans to be nicer to people who sympathize w/ Jihad extremists. I would much appreciate some Muslim folks showing us how much they despise the threats to (and murders of) Americans and other people.

  7. Read the Koran and see just how welcoming it is to non-Muslims (worse yet, threatening). It’s an indoctrination from early childhood. So no wonder people are viewed with suspicion, even from a double flush!!

  8. @Lindy, you see what you want to see and the media shows what it wants to show. Ofcourse muslims condemn all of these terrorists attacks, will it make the opening segment of the news? Will it make the newspapers? Nobody cares if muslims condemn it. Muslim leaders, imams and celebrities all condemn it, but it doesn’t matter.

    Do we hear Christians condemn terrorist attacks that have happened? No, because they shouldn’t have too. A few bad people claiming to be Christian don’t represent a very large percentage of Christians. A few bad people claiming to be Muslims certainly don’t represent a very large number of Muslims and DO NOT represent what Islam and Muslims truly believe

  9. @Rick, the Quran teaches Muslims to be great to their neighbors and all religions. Murdering an innocent person is as if you’re murdering all of mankind. Don’t believe all the BS you read and learn from actual sources. If 1 Billion Muslims in the world were actually taught to kill non-muslims, I think we would all be in trouble lol

  10. @Lindy, I personally know a lot more Muslims who openly condemn Jihadism than I know evangelical Christians willing to condemn our current president who, at last count, has flagrantly violated 8 or 9 of the Ten Commandments.

  11. @Gary – even for you this “article” is a low point. Self-proclaimed media insisting on reposting these hearsay stories and spiking them with 9/11 patriotism and a mix of other unrelated hearsay stories from other years and other airlines in an attempt to make a “story”.

    Don’t you have a credit card to sell?

  12. Flying while a U.S. citizen or tourist is hard. We get abused and harassed by TSA and customs yet I have seen many Arab Muslims going right through. Same with illegals getting drivers licenses and college benefits in California yet if us plain white American citizens checked a box wrong it is 5 years in prison. Enough Gary with your pc propaganda. You devalue your blog every time you focus on exaggerated claims yet ignore actual violence committed by a few groups on the rest of us.

  13. Lots of people apparently don’t know that Muslims are not a race. But people love play the race card!


  14. @Lindy

    Try getting outside of your bubble. You never see muslims condeming jihanism because you probably never listen to ANY muslims.

  15. Aren’t flight attendants’ main purpose for being there in the plane for passenger safety? If so then will just have to trust their gut instinct; even if you don’t agree with their decision.

  16. Planned Sabotage of AA Flight by Muslim Mechanic ~

    AA Flight Sabotage ~

    “According to prosecutors, Alani said he tampered with the plane “out of my evil side,” and admitted that he would not have allowed himself or his relatives to fly on a plane with a sabotaged ADM.

    *** There were 150 people on the American Airlines plane when the flight was aborted.” ~ (They probably would agree that flying with Muslims” is hard in this country.)

  17. Typical Gary… and his compatriots on this forum.

    This is only one side of the story.

    I’ll withhold judgment until a fuller understanding of the facts and backgrounds of these individuals come to light.

    I’ll just note that at least one of the complainants states that he has flown hundreds of times without incident, as well as the fact that he has the organization CAIR advancing his cause.

    Gary, you should be more circumspect, rather than running off to the toilet writing about these alleged incidents, any time you read a news article that seems to fit your worldview of rampant Muslim (or any other) discrimination by “less enlightened” individuals other than yourself.

  18. @R Smith

    Go away. We really don’t want you here. If you can’t understand why a Muslim being harassed for flushing a toilet twice is a problem, you are either congenitally ill or irretrievably stupid. I’m sure Fox News will welcome you with open arms though.

  19. I wonder what happens if a passenger flushes the aircraft toilet “three” times? To help save the blue juice, remember, if it’s yellow, let it mellow. If it’s brown, flush it down.

  20. When certain members of Congress don’t condemn jihad it certainly does make me think twice. After all, it wasn’t Presbyterians who “did something. Ha ha “

  21. I don’t know….maybe I am not paying enough attention to my fellow passengers… but I have to admit that I have really not even noticed any were from Middle-East or even try to figure out what religion any of them follow. It is not even something I think about in my daily life.

    But I guess it is good evidence that the terrorists won that day because even years later it is still in a lot of people’s heads that everyone on the plane is trying to bring it down….and they are doing with a bottle of water and carrying explosives in the heels of their shoes with a weapon conceal in the metal buckle of their belt. I am sure that terrorists are just laughing their heads off because they can see what they have achieved from that one day.

    It is probably easier nowadays to spot the enemy though because they are completely different from the way we look…different skin, hair, clothes and language. It was a lot tougher during WWI and II with those Germans and Italians….they sure look like a lot of people around here.

  22. Abderraoof Alkhawaldeh and Issam Abdallah, two people associated with CAIR (“Council of American Islamic Relations”), claim they were profiled by American Airlines. And somehow it became a worldwide news story run by such beacons of light as Washington Post, Buzzfeed, CNN, Aljazeera, Tribune India, Daily Mail, and Gary, but then Gary is just citing Dallas Morning News. Does seem to fit the narrative PERFECTLY, doesn’t it?

    As for me, no comment.

  23. Im amazed (not surprised) how some people will defend American Airlines actions here. These men were obviously profiled and subjected to harassment in clear form. Flushing the toilet twice….c’mon…. This just implies that ANYTHING these men did or plan to do, would’ve warranted the FA’s biased opinions and actions. They could’ve easily sighed or said “Inshallah” while on the plane, and they STILL would’ve been kicked off. Thank you for highlighting the reality Muslims live with now. As for Muslims condemning terror, they are doing just that..The folks that keep implying they aren’t, are NOT listening, or they they don’t want to listen, because, well…they are no better than the AA FA’s that did this.

  24. Makes you wonder what actions the 8 hijackers on 4 planes in 2001 took pre-flight that went unnoticed by all the passengers? Don’t discourage the public from being more situationally aware! As long as we live in a world where people have advertised that they desire to kill our citizens, we ALL need to view each other cautiously, as well as use wisdom with our own behaviors so as not to scare others.
    As OtherJustSaying indicated, it was possibly a contrived plan anyway. I’m sure more happened pre-flight than what Gary said. Enough happened that employees and passengers became concerned.

  25. @Lindy: You are correct,those 30 innocent Farmers picking Pine Nuts All Day long in 100 Degrees Heat in Afghanistan deserved to Die when a US Drone mistook them for Terrorists and Blew them away, Oh By the way 45 of the Laborers also lost their Limbs,Well,there will be 100 muslims that won’t be Flying anymore! Right? Lindy,you need to get out of your Rest Home and Travel the world,There are a Lot of nice people out there.

  26. @ReapWhatYouSow
    Bad attempt at humor. There have been a lot of Presbyterian terrorists in Northern Ireland over the last few decades.

  27. If double-flushing were really grounds for suspicion I’d definitely be on the no-fly list by now…

  28. Despicable actions and response by American. “We are reaching out to better understand” is always corporate speak for “We totally screwed up, but we can’t admit it for legal reasons, but we have to say something.”

    Keep calling out bigotry wherever you see it, Gary.

  29. Fruitcake FAs…but they continue to act this way with impunity (AA doesn’t appear even remotely embarrassed by them). Giving these whackos such power , in the absence of appropriate training/skills, is lunacy.

  30. @Lindy

    I don’t think I’ve ever read something more stupid than what you’ve written in my entire life. Ever.

  31. @ Hadley Indeed, the rush to judgment when you really only have one side of the story (from “activists” no less!) is one of the great failures of our social media age. I’m sure there can be problems travelling “as a Muslim” in America. Just as I wouldn’t want to walk down a street in Gaza with a yarmulke. Largely because of 9/11, a large percentage of Americans are going to be more suspicious of Muslim men on an aircraft than they will be of little old ladies. Just like if I was walking at night down a dark alley in an American city and was approached by a young black man in a hoodie, I’d be more suspicious than if that little old lady approached me. Am I racist, or just a sentient human being playing the odds? We really don’t know how these Muslim men behaved on this aircraft. I suspect their behavior was also perceived as being suspicious because they were single Muslim men (but, of course, I don’t know that). If folks want to be all holier than thou about such incidents, fine. But I suggest things will go smoother if both sides understand the likely perceptions of others, and try to minimize friction and misunderstandings.

  32. Gary your post 9/11 thoughts were not as you say irrational. Quite the contrary. I once trailed a Middlle Eastern man into the toilet after he was there for more than 15 minutes across the Atlantic the week the planes started flying again and tore apart the toilet to make sure there was no bombs hidden. In those days the pilots used to get on the horn and say that we the passengers were the last line of defense to anything that might endanger an aircraft. Throw shoes or laptop or anything at attackers coming up the aisle is what they told us.. There were no good security cockpit doors yet back then. We were all afraid. One could say irrational, but there was legitimate fear everywhere.

  33. @matt
    @R Smith is probably scared of Muslims says

    Interesting … I said I don’t watch CNN, Fox, or MSNBC because of the political screed on all three. Didn’t you read that?

    And, I’ll comment that I’ve spent three years of my life hanging out with Muslims, some great interpreters, some great guys to have next to you on patrol, and some great patriots looking to bring democracy and stability to where they live.

    But yes, this is a travel blog, not a political advocacy blog. Certainly not a place for people to randomly pick sides when they really don’t know what happened.

  34. R Smith
    You are correct.
    Also. Gary. Stick to travel. I don’t care about your politics. Isn’t this supposed to be helpful and interesting travel stuff. You are beginning to sound like so many frustrated Democrats. Get over it.
    Trump won. Thank God.

  35. Gary, here is a simple google search showing among other things that 38% of Muslim population believes suicide bombings against civilians is justified.

    I don’t care what the group was. If it was a motorcycle gang with an identifiable particular tattoo, if that group had a high percentage of them who were acceptable to violence, you don’t think that people from that group should have any extra scrutiny?

    Nobody is saying everyone from a particular group is bad. But use common sense. If a significant portion of whatever group that is believes they have the right and obligation to murder you, than use your head and give extra scrutiny toward them. Or live in your liberal world, for as long as you can, with your head stuck in the sand.

    If I am part of a group which gets me extra scrutiny even though I am not a threat, I don’t blame the people who look at me with rightful concern, but rather those in my group who cause it. They are the problem, not the people using common sense to help protect their lives and the lives of those around them. And thankful for people in that group who are trying to turn the tide, like Muslims who speak out against terrorism.

    Thank god, American Airlines seems to have some common sense. Muslims on the plane should be thankful as well. Most terrorism is carried out against Muslims by Muslims. Lets work together. I would hope as a healthy male that I get extra scrutiny over granny. Just use common sense people and stop being bothered by scrutiny the particular ethnic, age, gender, group you belong to may warrant.

  36. @FlyingBoat
    So, by your logic: given that Americans have a much greater propensity to kill or maim others with guns ( a simple google search will show that it’s up to 20X the rate in other countries), including schools, nightclubs, malls, music festivals, streets, parks, beaches….then Americans should be subject to greater scrutiny wherever they go around the world? American students studying abroad should be searched before going on campus, lest they be planning mass murder? Americans going into a cathedral in England should be checked for weapons? That’s your argument taken to a logical extreme.
    In any event, you want to cede judgements about security risks on planes to the untrained trolley dollies serving the coffee? Madness.

  37. @Paolo. You do realize that if your google “murder rates by country”, the first listing is Wikipedia which has a list of murder rates by country, from the UN. The United States ranks 94. Just saying.

  38. @OtherJust Saying
    My reference was to guns and comparing culturally similar countries: USA homicide by guns: 20+ X the rate in Australia ( AU: 0.18 per 100,000, US: 4.46; more than 69x the rate in the UK. Similar to Australia for France, Ireland, Italy, NZ, Scandinavia, etc etc etc.
    In any case, my only point is that it would be ludicrous to make judgement about ALL Americans on the basis of these figures; similarly crazy to be drawing conclusions about Muslims on planes ( and particularly so when the ‘eyes’ are ill-trained harpies). It’s pathetic.

  39. All I know is that if I were a passenger on that flight, I would be extremely upset that I was needlessly inconvenienced because of what I believe to be ignorant and bigoted assumptions by crew members. Gary is merely reporting an incident and I respectfully suggest that those who are offended by its inclusion in the blog, consider what those actions meant to the other passengers on the flight and all of us fellow travelers who may be so effected on future flights.

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