Southwest Bans Muslim Woman From Exit Row Because She’d “Bring The Whole Plane Down”

A woman who flew Southwest Airlines from Fort Lauderdale to Dallas Love Field on May 22 with her sister to visit their mother who had been admitted to a hospital’s intensive care unit says she was booted from an exit row seat by a flight attendant because she’s Muslim and was wearing a hijab. Her sister, also Muslim but not wearing a hijab, was allowed to keep her exit row seat but moved voluntarily. She says she’s filed a DOT complaint.

Altakrouri, who was born and raised in the U.S. and wearing a hijab during the flight, claimed a flight attendant told her that she “couldn’t speak English and would bring the whole plane down in an emergency.”

“I took it just as a terrorist comment,” Altakrouri said during the news conference. “If I were to say something like that, I would be kicked off the plane. I don’t understand why she would say something like that. That makes me look like I am some kind of terrorist and I am not.”

Fatima said that she spoke to the flight attendant in English.

According to the woman’s sister, the flight attendant “said well you can sit [in the exit row] but she can’t.” They both gave up the exit row so they could sit together.

According to the airline,

Southwest neither condones nor tolerates discrimination of any kind. Since Southwest Airlines’ inception, we have put People first and maintain a mutual respect for our fellow Southwest Airlines Employees, our Customers, and the diverse communities that we serve. We apologize to any Customer who has a less than positive travel experience on Southwest and will look into the specific passenger situation referenced.

Flying While Muslim is challenging in this country. Flying while even being mistaken for Muslim is, too. In 2016 a math professor – named Guido Menzio – was removed from an American Airlines flight because the math symbols he drew were mistaken for Arabic writing. He was confused with a member of the ‘Al-Gebra movement’ and flagged for his use of weapons of math instruction.

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. If this story is entirely accurate I really hope she sues them. Driving while Black, flying while Muslim…there are always ignorant bullies who will find a reason to use force against anyone who is different, and their actions hurts us all. As with any bullies if they get away with it their behavior will just get worse.

  2. Can any other passengers back up that story? There had to be others in the exit row.

  3. I for one even though NOT a flight attendant, am tired of them being the scapegoat and being bashed for any time they attempt to enforce a safety guideline. Not sure of the whole story here, but as someone in the exit row must be able to take on the responsibility of being able to respond, take direction, comprehend directions and physically act accordingly, perhaps the FA was just in her concerns.

  4. I dunno seems like we aren’t getting the full story here – just a total guess – Did she fail to acknowledge the FA when asked if she was ok sitting in the exit row? I have no idea, but seems like there is more to this one.

  5. I have often seen people who don’t understand English and are speaking another language sit in the exit row because they don’t know the rule. The FA will ask them to move unless they are very good at pretending to understand English or unless they are actually bilingual.

    As others have said, there is usually another side to these initial viral stories. Not that the correction will ever reverse the initial impression. In rare case the purported victim turns out to have created the incident for publicity. We’ve seen it all.

  6. Not being able to speak or understand English is a legitimate reason to be asked to move from an exit row but the passenger clearly speaks fluent English during the news conference. Not even a trace of accent so regardless of why the cabin attendant chose to require the passenger to move they wouldn’t be able to use that as the reason.

    The relationship between crew and passengers is pretty strained and has been for some time. Going back years staff have had to take a grief from a minority of passengers, with frequent flyers sometimes being the worst. Crew is are also bend at their employers and when new rules gave them power they previously hadn’t had some used it inappropriately. Not surprising angered passengers creating a vicious circle of anger and resentment that took off during the pandemic over masks.

    So this is not a new problem and while I sympathize with the crews ultimately they are supposed to be professionals which means acting professionally and not power tripping.

    As with most things you get what you pay for. Airlines that treat their staff well have larger avoided the worst problems. They hire smart people, train them how to handle difficult situations, give them the authority to make good decisions and deal with employees who aren’t willing or able to measure up to the task. Other airlines either don’t care, don’t know how or are too frightened of their workers and the result is repeated failures of all kinds.

    The only thing we can do as customers is to buy tickets on those carriers that are doing a good job and avoid those that aren’t. Not easy if you live in a fortress hub with one of then airlines that is miserably run but such is life.

  7. oh yes the land of the free, highly waiving flags by discriminating no matter what minorities. what has happened to the us??? discrimination has become so normal in this country that sometimes i wonder, if sooner or later we will be the ones needing to be freed from more civilized nations.

    if this is true i hope the sue this fa. at the same time i just hope prices will go up, so that airlines can finally fire those fa not even wanting to be there (id say 1/3 should really get a new job).

  8. I”ve been kicked out of an exit row in China for guess what? Right, not being able to speak Chinese. What a joke this snowflake it and pretty much snowflaking by blaming this on bigotry.

  9. If this happened to a white person in China, an asian person in Africa, or a black person in India or the Middle East, no one would care and it wouldnt even get a second look. Americans are obsessed with race and diversity and the obsession unfortunately will be its undoing. This current and heightened obsession is using the term “social justice” or equity as a cover for what it really is – societal revenge.

  10. @Boogen, the passenger speaks fluent English so can you explain how their getting moved from the exit row has anything to do with your being asked to move in China? I’m failing to see the connection.

  11. And the Al-Gebra story used to be funny but isn’t anymore, especially because, surprise surprise the word “algebra” really does come from Arabic…

  12. Passengers are asked to move from exit rows if they are too young/too old/appear too weak to assist in opening the emergency exit in an evacuation and being the first people outside waiting to receive and assist passengers out the exit.

    Just because the woman has made accusations, doesn’t mean the headline and article should take her statements as fact. Often times these accusations are unfounded. It certainly is possible she did not meet the safety requirements. Another possibility might be her headdress would be a danger in an evacuation. Having to open an emergency exit is not easy. Space is cramped. Headdress can be caught easily.

    In most cases it’s not Muslim or other groups who are targeted but whites/Christians/conservatives/legitimate tourists. We see people wearing full Muslim garb being waved right on in at TSA checkpoints and westerner grandmothers being put through the wringer. We have non western illegal aliens being given crate Blanche of benefits, while citizens and legitimate tourists are harassed by customs/have their money seized via human rights violating civil asset forfeiture or electronic devices taken and searched at the border.

    Westerners should stop worrying about claims of non western groups and start focusing on ourselves and own priorities. Of note is the draconian and inhumane/abusive application of law in the UAE where western tourists have been held for ridiculous things.

  13. Which part of this are you guys incapable of reading:

    “Altakrouri, who was born and raised in the U.S. and wearing a hijab during the flight, claimed a flight attendant told her that she “couldn’t speak English and would bring the whole plane down in an emergency.”

    She was born and raised in the US, she speaks English. Those of you who only live to rebuke Gary are ridiculous Trump loving Fox watching idiots. Get a life.

  14. Don’t do a tit for tat, this is nothing more then bigotry and ignorance. This is need to stop and stop now! This FA needs to be fired immediately.

  15. So this is actually what happened from someone who witnessed it first hand. When the F/A asked the passenger in question if they understood the exit row brief instructions, they responded in Arabic. When the F/A asked the passenger to move, she then began speaking English.

    Because the F/A was unsure if the passenger would be able to understand all instructions in English, the passenger was again asked to move.

    This is what happens when you play stupid games and give people access to a microphone. The passenger was looking for a fight and played dumb. When the F/A called them on their shenanigans, they then cried foul. It doesn’t work like that. You get one chance and if you want to play coy, too bad. Find a new seat.

    I hope SWA stands up for the F/A for doing the right thing. What’s really upsetting is all the comments on here jumping the gun thinking the F/A was the bigot. It was more the other way, the pax refused to answer in English and tried to push buttons. Now they are throwing the race card. This should tell you all you need to know about this particular person.

  16. @Boogen, I’m still interested to hear how you getting moved from an exit row in China because you don’t speak Chinese has anything to do with someone being removed from an exit row here even though the passenger speaks fluent English.

  17. Jackson, since decision making requires facts can you provide evidence for your claim that whites/Christians/conservatives/legitimate tourists are the ones being targeted in most cases?

  18. It’s all too predictable how people with prejudices against certain ethnic or religious groups are so eager to come up with excuses to try to downplay, dismiss or justify illegal discrimination against individuals who are members of those ethic or religious minority group when individuals from such minority groups dare to speak out and identify illegal prejudice against them as prejudice.

    Trump-supporters/voters with their cancel culture directed at minority-community members who “dare” to call a spade a spade? Yes, that right-wing cancel culture includes their downplaying, dismissing or justifying prejudices of the sort that they hold near and dear in too small hearts.

  19. You MUST be able to read speak and understand English to sit in Exit Row. PERIOD !

  20. I was on a Lufthansa flight years ago and a very lightly built nun was moved from the exit row. She took no offense. The FA explained that her habit may inhibit her movement if needed. I’m supporting the FA in this issue. Take no chances, not even if the woke movement whines about it.

  21. Traveling as a Muslim never been an issue in the states. May be in Europe but not in the states! Few incidents doesn’t make it a phenomenon, sick flight attendant is there every where.

  22. Airarer, you make a good point about clothing possibly interfering with the ability of someone to assist in an emergency. The problem is that trust has been severely eroded between passengers and crew. Both are quick to get their backs up but the solution is to reestablish trust so that each side comes to a situation believing the other is acting in good faith.

    But insulting those who don’t share your believes with fighting words such as “woke” and saying they whine is not going to help make that happen.

    Everyone dies together when things badly go sideways in an airplane. The person with whom you strongly disagree politically might be the one who saves your life or the other way around.

    So let’s be nice out there. We’re the experienced travelers and are in the best position to bring civility back by setting a good example.

    A good way to get the ball rolling is to be nice here. We can disagree, but let’s be respectful of each other and quit the name calling. It’s hard to hear what people are saying when they are throwing rocks. One is much more likely to change someone’s mind with well thought out reasoning.

  23. Yes, the flight attendant’s job really changed when they had to be able to use tie wrap handcuffs to control a passenger!

  24. But a passenger on the flight reached out to Live and Let’s Fly and provided the following statement:

    I was on the flight and these ladies are lying. After taking their exit row seats, a flight attendant approached them to perform a safety briefing. Upon completion, she asked the three exit row passengers, including the two women, whether they understood the instructions. The one wearing a hijab responded in Arabic. The flight attendant immediately asked the passenger to move and an argument ensued. She suddenly began speaking English, but the flight attendant was clearly skeptical that she would be willing to help in an emergency and it seemed the two were playing a game by deliberately looking for discrimination when there was not any present.

  25. The appropriate response from the cabin attendant would have been to say It is required that you be able to you speak and understand English in order to be seated in the exit row” (assuming that is in fact the real). “Do you speak and understand English and are you willing to use English in the even of an emergency?”

    If the passenger replied that they did and would then they get to stay in the exit row. If not then the cabin attendant would tell them they need to be reseated.

    Explaining what is required to sit in an exit row is a show of professionalism. I obviously was not on the plane but if what you say is correct then the cabin attendant was not acting professionally when the immediately asked the passenger to move.

    There is obviously fault on both sides here but the crew is supposed to be the professionals. It would have taken just the cabin attendant only couple of words to explain what she needed and keep the process flowing smoothly. Instead she appears to have chosen to show off her authority and power.

    What if the passenger really only spoke Arabic and the cabin attendant immediately said, in English, they had to move? The passenger would have had had no idea what was being asked or them or why. If the passenger didn’t respond they spoke English the appropriate action would have been for the attendant to ask the persons next to them if they are traveling together and if so could they explain that they need to be reseated because they don’t speak English.

    If no one spoke English the crew needs to have a procedure for moving the person. The US gets a lot of foreign visitors so it’s reasonable to assume that having someone seated in an exit row who needs to be reseated for any number of reasons, including we assume, that they don’t speak English is a not uncommon occurrence. That being the case the airlines should have and crew needs to follow the procedure. I find it hard to believe that best practices calls for immediately insisting they move without providing any sort of attempt at an explanation.

    People are often jerks so part of the job in a service business is dealing with the. Part of that is to de-escalate rather than escalate the situation. In this case as simple explanation probably would have sufficed but that appears not to have happened and we see the result.

  26. Following flight attendant commands in an exit row is not just about physically following commands but also in communicating to other passengers and back to the flight attendants.

    If you are addressed in one language and respond in another, it is well within reason to doubt if you are really fluent in the language which was spoken to you.
    I am bilingual and if I choose to respond in a language other than what was spoken to me, I ask in that language if I can respond in English.

    If the reports are true that the one woman responded to an English statement with a non-English response, there is absolutely no question of not just the justification but also the requirement for the flight attendant to move the passenger.

  27. Which part of she was born and raised in the U.S. and wearing a hijab during the flight, don’t you understand? Clearly the flight attendant was wrong and they’re going to pay. Plus, what makes you think there is more to the story? Because you hope to justify your bigotry?

  28. Even the eyewitness that the racists here are using to backup their “non-story” claims, actually provides support for the passenger claims.

    FA didn’t ask her to respond in English. Once concern by FA was noted, she spoke perfectly fine English. At that point there was ZERO grounds to move her. FA still ignored fact that she could speak English and required she move.

    As for her face covering? Nice try. If that had been raised as an issue then it would be one. The only issue the FA had was with lady daring to speak Arabic.

    If you want to be racist, while I think it’s wrong, be racist. Just don’t get offended when someone points out that you’re racist. Instead you want to be allowed to be racist, but get all upset when called on it.

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