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Los Angeles - Southwest Is Sued By Arabic Speaker Who Was Removed From Plane

Published on: February 13, 2018 11:01 PM
By: Reuters
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FILE - A Southwest Airlines plane is seen at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) in the Greater Los Angeles Area, California, U.S., April 10, 2017. REUTERSFILE - A Southwest Airlines plane is seen at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) in the Greater Los Angeles Area, California, U.S., April 10, 2017. REUTERS

Los Angeles - Southwest Airlines Co was sued on Tuesday by an American citizen who came to the United States as an Iraqi refugee and said he was removed from a California flight after another passenger became unnerved upon hearing him speak in Arabic.

Khairuldeen Makhzoomi, the plaintiff, is seeking compensatory and punitive damages for civil rights violations, discrimination and emotional distress stemming from what he called the “Islamophobia” underlying the April 6, 2016 incident, which began as he awaited takeoff to Oakland from Los Angeles.

Southwest had no immediate comment. Lawyers for the plaintiff did not immediately respond to requests for comment. The complaint was filed with the U.S. District Court in San Francisco.


Makhzoomi said he had been seated and talking with his uncle on his phone, after attending a dinner featuring United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, when two police officers and Southwest employee Shoaib Ahmed, who is also a defendant, removed him from the plane.

The plaintiff, then a public policy student at the University of California at Berkeley, said he was “singled out” by the Dallas-based carrier for speaking in Arabic, though he was doing nothing wrong and was not a security threat.

He also said Ahmed, who first addressed him in Arabic before being asked to speak in English, admonished him for speaking with his uncle in Arabic, saying, “Why are you talking in Arabic? You know the environment is very dangerous.”

Makhzoomi said he was released by local law enforcement and the Federal Bureau of Investigation after hours of questioning and being “invasively searched,” but that Southwest refused to rebook him, and instead refunded his ticket. He later flew home on Delta Air Lines.

“Southwest was and is well aware of the prevalent stereotypes and sentiments associated with Islamophobia,” the complaint said, “and knew or should have known that they cannot simply remove Arabic speaking passengers without having a valid reason or concern.”

The carrier said soon after the incident that its employees followed proper procedure, and that the “content” of Makhzoomi’s conversation, not the language, had prompted action.

The case is Makhzoomi v Southwest Airlines Co et al, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California, No. 18-00924.

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Read Comments (4)  —  Post Yours »


 Feb 14, 2018 at 08:34 AM Schmuel Says:

Southwest Airlines personnel, are not nice people. I can tell everyone that because of negative experiences, that I've had with them over the years, the most recent occurring only a few months ago. I've noticed a definite decline in the quality of their ticketing and gate personnel, as well as some of their so-called flight attendants. Even when one makes a legitimate complaint, they attempt to use flowery language to weasel their way out of responsibility. Unfortunately, we've seen these cases before, where passengers are harassed for speaking Arabic on the cell phones. There was a case not that long ago, where a Jewish teenager, was putting on tephillen on during a flight and was davening. the pilot made an emergency landing, and the poor boy was handcuffed, arrested, and questioned for hours by the FBI. Whereas years ago, it was a pleasure to fly, today passengers are treated worse than dogs. The airlines cannot blame 9/11/01 for this change in attitude, as I noticed the attitudes of the airlines changing long before 9/11. I'd like to paraphrase what Clark Gable stated at the end of the movie "Gone with the Wind"; "frankly, they (the airlines), don't give a d---".


 Feb 14, 2018 at 09:39 AM georgeg Says:

Looking up the old stories, it seems that a woman (who claims to be an Arabic speaker and thus claims to have understood what Khairuldeen Makhzoomi was saying in Arabic) on the plane reported to staff that she heard Khairuldeen Makhzoomi talk and understood it as threatening (apparently include the topic of "shahid" which may be translated "martyrs" or simply "witness"). But Khairuldeen Makhzoomi denies ever mentioning any such topic and claims he only said "insha'Allah" ("G-d willing") As apparently there is no recording of the conversation available, it is one person's word against another's.

And by his own admission, Khairuldeen Makhzoomi did mention the "Islamic State" in his conversation.

And for the record, this took place in April 2016, so this is under Obama and before Trump was elected.


 Feb 14, 2018 at 03:08 PM Ppppp Says:

Yes I’m sure he suffered irreversible emotional damage, can’t work, can’t function and lost the will to live because of this terrible trauma he suffered. Let’s pay him a few million dollars, perhaps that will help his recovery,


 Feb 14, 2018 at 05:08 PM Mendel Says:

To #3- How would you like it if they dragged your tuchas off a flight, detained you, and strip searched you, when you didn't commit a crime? If this person was not an Arab, but a Jew, you would have a different opinion!


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