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Conversation, not Arabic, led to student’s removal, Southwest Airlines says

Southwest Airlines says it was the content of the college student’s conversation that got him kicked off a flight, not that he was speaking Arabic.
Southwest Airlines says it was the content of the college student’s conversation that got him kicked off a flight, not that he was speaking Arabic. aahles@star-telegram.com

Southwest Airlines said Monday that a college student who was speaking Arabic was removed from a flight earlier this month because another passenger believed that he had made “threatening comments.”

The Dallas-based airline issued a new statement on Monday afternoon after The Washington Post published an interview with student, Khairuldeen Makhzoomi, who blamed the incident on “Islamophobia.”

In its statement, Southwest said the flight crew responded to a passenger’s concern about comments made by Makhzoomi while boarding a Southwest flight from Los Angeles to Oakland.

“Our Crew responded by following protocol, as required by federal law, to investigate and report to law enforcement agencies any potential threat to civil aviation,” Southwest said in a statement. “It was the content of the passenger’s conversation, not the language used, that prompted the report leading to our investigation.”

Makhzoomi said he believed he was kicked off of Southwest flight 4620 on April 6 because he was speaking Arabic while on his cell phone with his uncle which alarmed the other passenger. He also used a common phrase “Inshallah,” which means “God willing” during the call.

The college senior at University of California at Berkeley, who is also an Iraqi refugee, was questioned by the FBI and then released the same day. He was given a full refund by Southwest and then booked a flight on Delta Air Lines to get back to school.

“I came here to the U.S. because I believed in the values of this country,” Makhzoomi told the Washington Post in an interview. “Islamophobia does not serve to fight terror. It plays right into the Islamic State game of striking fear among us.”

Keep reading for the full statement from Southwest Airlines.

“A Southwest passenger onboard flight 4620 requested that our Crew investigate what were perceived to be threatening comments made by another passenger onboard. Both passengers involved in the situation spoke a shared language, Arabic. Our Crew responded by following protocol, as required by federal law, to investigate and report to law enforcement agencies any potential threat to civil aviation. It was the content of the passenger's conversation, not the language used, that prompted the report leading to our investigation. We provided the passenger an immediate refund of his unused ticket. Federal law enforcement agents became involved and conducted their own investigation.

“We regret any less than positive experience a Customer has onboard our aircraft. We welcome onboard more than a hundred million Customers each year; and we aim safely to transport each, while maintaining the comfort of all. Safety is our always first focus, and our Employees are trained to make decisions to safeguard the security of our Crews and Customers on every flight. We would not remove a passenger from a flight without a collaborative decision rooted in established procedures. Southwest neither condones nor tolerates discrimination of any kind. Our Company could not survive if we practiced or believed otherwise. In fact, a cursory view of our workforce, as well as our expansive, multi-cultural Customer base is a reliable indicator that we exalt and appreciate diversity.”

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