The perils of flying while Muslim

26th Aug 2016

With the number of Muslim passengers being kicked off flights sky rocketing for the most ludicrous reasons, this syndrome is dubbed “flying while Muslim” or in some cases, flying while looking Muslim. The Muslim News looks back at just some of the jaw-dropping, bizarre and absurd explanations Muslim passengers have been given for their ordeals.

August 3, 2016 | Miami Airport, USA

PROFILED: Voice of America journalist and a government worker

Removed from an… American Airlines flight to Washington for.. DISCUSSING A DELAY | Niala Mohammad and her friend had been grounded for about five hours in Miami, they and other passengers were not allowed to buy food or drink. Her friend and a white male passenger seated behind her started talking about the delay. A flight attendant approached her friend and said: “If you have a problem, you can get off the plane.” He also accused her of “instigating” objections from others and threatened to remove her from the plane.

The friend took a picture of the flight attendant to try and ID him as he was not wearing a badge and did not give them his name. They were then told that taking a picture was a federal offence and were asked to delete the picture. A customer relations rep came on board and asked the two women to follow her off the plane, where they were greeted by armed air marshals. They told the women that the male flight attendant had felt threatened by them.

The male passenger they had talked to on board the plane was not asked to leave.Niala Mohammad said: “Although we were encouraged to document the incident to AA customer relations, we still experienced insult and embarrassment as two minority Muslim-American women…For being such a “threat” to an AA attendant, it’s telling that the Miami-Dade police officers joked with us and posed for a picture with the “pretty harmless airplane menaces.”




July 26, 2016 | Charles de Gaulle Airport, Paris

PROFILED: American couple of Pakistani decent returning from an anniversary trip

Removed from a… Delta Air Lines flight to Cincinnati for.. SWEATING, WEARING A SCARF AND USING A PHONE | Nazia Ali had finished sending a text message to her parents and was putting on her headphones when a crew member approached her and her husband, Faisal. The flight crew member had complained to the pilot that she was uncomfortable with the couple. The woman was wearing a head scarf and using a phone, and the man was sweating, she allegedly told the pilot.
The couple, who have three young children under the age of five, were removed from that flight and booked into a hotel by the airline overnight. The children were being looked after by the couple’s parents. The couple was interrogated again by a US customs agent at the airport the next day. When Faisal asked what they had done wrong, the agent said: “You have done nothing wrong, unfortunately this is the way the world is right now. It is Delta’s word against yours.”


July 25, 2016 | Doncaster Airport, UK

PROFILED: A Muslim NHS worker from Leeds

Quizzed by police for.. READING A BOOK ON SYRIAN CULTURE | Faizah Shaheen, who helps prevent teenage mental health patients from becoming radicalised, was returning from her honeymoon in Turkey when she was stopped by police. The 27-year-old was pulled over because a fortnight earlier a cabin crew member from a Thomson Airways flight had reported her for having a suspicious book. Police questioned her for 15 minutes under anti-terror laws and told her the suspicions related to the holiday book she had been reading – Syria Speaks: Art and Culture from the Frontline, an award-winning book comprised of short stories, poems, songs, cartoons and photos from Syrian authors and artists.
Faizah Shaheen said: “I fight for different causes and then to be victimised and experience this first-hand made me realise how bad it is. Instead of reminiscing about our honeymoon I am left talking about this experience. ”


June 15, 2016 | Dallas/Fort Worth Airport, USA

PROFILED: White non-Muslim bearded male

Removed from an… Alaska Airlines flight to Seattle for.. BEING BEARDED/UNFIT TO FLY | Mark French alleges he was informed that he was unfit to board his flight as his beard sparked a complaint from another passenger who claimed to find him “Arabic and scary”. He says he was approached by security in a waiting area and was told he would not be able to board his flight. French claims that he was told he was “unfit to fly” until he was clean shaven despite his beard appearing to be little more than stubble. – Alaska Airlines denies these allegations and insists that French was loud and disruptive in the boarding area, which was why he was deemed unfit to fly.


May 4, 2016 | Philadelphia Airport, USA

PROFILED: 40 year old Italian Ivy League professor

Removed from an… American Airline flight to New York for.. DOING MATH | Guido Menzio, an economist at the University of Pennsylvania, was working on a math equation while waiting for the plane to take off. But a passenger somehow mistook the equation for Arabic or some sort of code for a terrorist attack. The woman, initially told a flight attendant that she was feeling too ill to travel but when they escorted her off the plane, the woman told the crew she had actually been feeling suspicious of Menzio and wanted to be booked on another flight, but it was Menzio who was escorted off the plane. He was informed that his seatmate had suspected he was a terrorist specifically bringing up his “cryptic” notes in the unrecognisable script.
Guido Menzio said: “What might prevent an epidemic of paranoia? It is hard not to recognize in this incident, the ethos of Trump’s voting base.”


April 6, 2016 | LAX Airport, Los Angeles, USA

PROFILED: 26 year old college student of Iraqi origin

Removed from a… Southwest Airlines flight to Oakland for.. TALKING IN ARABIC | Prior to takeoff, Khairuldeen Makhzoomi had called his uncle in Baghdad to tell him about a function he attended the previous evening, featuring UN, Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon. He and his uncle shared a customary inshallah, [God willing]. According to Southwest Airlines a nearby passenger overheard the conversation and felt alarmed by his “potentially threatening comments”.

The woman told staff that she heard him say “Shahid,” meaning martyr. He was approached by an Arabic-speaking employee who asked him why he was speaking the language on the plane, and escorted him out to security personnel at the gate. Three FBI agents took him to a private room where they questioned him about his family, particularly his father, Khalid, a former diplomat who had been killed by Saddam Hussein’s the regime.
Khairuldeen Makhzoomi said:


April, 2016 | Leonardo da Vinci–Fiumicino Airport, Rome, Italy

PROFILED: British man of Eritrean descent

Removed from an… easyJet flight to Gatwick because.. A PASSENGER “DIDN’T FEEL SAFE” | Meghary Yemane-Tesfagiorgis was in his seat awaiting take-off, when the captain had explained they were delayed for 20 minutes because of a fault with luggage, so when a cabin crew member asked if anyone called Yemane-Tesfagiorgis was on board, he assumed it had something to do with the luggage.

But when he came forward, he was greeted by Italian armed police who marched him to the airport’s station where they interrogated him for more than 15 hours. Officers told him a woman had felt threatened by his presence on the plane.Meghary Yemane-Tesfagiorgis said: “They [easyJet] have apologised to me on a few occasions but it’s not about me and easyJet. It is way bigger than that.”


April 13, 2016 | Chicago O’Hare Airport, USA

PROFILED: American woman of Somali origin

Removed from a… Southwest Airlines airline to Seattle for.. SWITCHING SEATS | Hakima Abdulle was told to disembark the plane after she asked the man next to her whether she could move to the aisle seat, and he had agreed. A flight attendant then approached her and said they were not allowed to swap seats, despite the airline’s policy of unassigned seating. Abdulle asked why she could not switch.

The flight attendant asked her to get off the plane. When police asked the flight attendant at the gate if there was any reason why Abdulle had been taken off the plane, she replied “no” and that she “did not feel comfortable” with the passenger. Abdulle was rebooked on a flight to Seattle several hours later.


March 26, 2016 | Vienna Airport, Austria

PROFILED: UK-based Iraqi scientist



Removed from an… easyJet flight to Gatwick for… TEXTING IN ARABIC | Hasan Dewachi, 32, was kicked off his flight because a passenger suspected he was a terrorist when she saw him texting in Arabic. Dewachi, who has lived in the UK for six years and is studying for a master’s degree in biochemistry, was texting his wife about his journey when he was approached by a cabin crew and told to disembark.

He was questioned and had his phone confiscated for examination, he was later cleared but the flight had already left without him, the married father-of-two was abandoned at the airport without a flight and without a phone.Hasan Dewachi said: “I feel racially discriminated against. It is as if they have forgotten I am not only a customer but a human being as well.”


March 20, 2016 | Chicago O’Hare Airport, USA

PROFILED: Muslim American family of Arab decent

Removed from a… United Airlines flight to Washington for… FLIGHT SAFETY (NO ELABORATION) | Eaman-Amy Saad Shebley, her husband and three young children were about to take off when the pilot asked them to get off the aircraft. The family had enquired earlier whether the air stewardess could provide five-point harness safety seats for their children. Two videos filmed by Shebley show the air stewardess and then the pilot asking the family to leave. Shebley asked the pilot whether it was a “discriminatory” decision.

The pilot replied it was a “flight safety issue” but were not given any details. Eaman-Amy Saad Shebley said: “Shame on you ‪United Airlines‬ for profiling my family for no reason other than how we look and kicking us off the plane for “safety flight issues” on our flight to DC for the kids spring break. My three kids are too young to have experienced this.”


March 8, 2016 | Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta Airport, USA


Removed from a… Delta Air Lines flight to Toronto for… USING THE TOILET | Despite being a Delta Platinum Elite member and approved by the US Customs and Border Protection’s Global Entry program, which expedites low-risk air passengers through security procedures, Syed Muhammad Abbace Ayleya was escorted off the flight and told little more than that his use of the airplane toilet was “doubtful”.

The airplane left the gate, but then returned to the gate about five minutes later. A Delta employee boarded the plane and escorted Ayleya back to the terminal, where he was met by two officers. He was only told that “the crew was doubtful about the way you were using the restroom”. Syed Muhammad Abbace Ayleya is suing Delta Air.


February 25, 2016 | London Luton Airport, UK

PROFILED: 40 year old Christian, Nigerian-born Briton mistaken for Muslim

Removed from an.. easyJet flight to Amsterdam for… RECEIVING A PRAYER MESSAGE | Pastor Laolu Opebiyi, was using WhatsApp to arrange a prayer call session with friends, as the flight was waiting to take off . But he was pulled off the flight by two firearms officers after a fellow passenger read the message over his shoulder and alerted cabin crew, who raised the alarm with police.It is thought the man misread the name of Opebiyi’s prayer group “ISI men” – which stands for “iron sharpens iron” from a Bible quote – as Isis.

The business analyst was taken into questioning by police and quizzed about his Christian faith and where he attends church.Laolu Opebiyi said: “Someone felt I was a terrorist because they saw the word ‘prayer’ on my phone and now I stand in uncertainty about my freedom of movement in and out of the United Kingdom”.

February 5, 2016 | Manchester Airport, UK

PROFILED: British charity worker and anti-extremism campaigner

Removed from a.. Thomson Airway flight to Marrakech for… NO REASON GIVEN | Ahmed Ali, 39, was about to fly with his pregnant wife for a belated honeymoon when he was told by a flight attendant that he had to disembark from the plane.

He was then taken by officers from Greater Manchester Police and questioned under Section 7 of the Terrorism Act. Ali said he will be making official complaints to the airline and the police about the incident which he says the incident caused his wife to have panic attacks.

January 2, 2016 | Athens Airport, Greece

PROFILED: Two Israeli Arabs

Removed from an.. Aegean Airlines flight to Tel Aviv for.. BEING ARAB | Israeli passengers forced the cabin crew to remove two Israeli Arabs from the flight before allowing it to take off. The Jewish Israeli passengers decided that the two Israeli Arab passengers on the flight constituted a security risk. After bringing their concern to the attention of the crew, they prevented the flight from taking off by standing in the aisles. The two Israeli Arabs finally acceded to crew requests that they disembark, in return for a hotel room and compensation.


December 6, 2015 | Charlotte Douglas Airport, N. Carolina, USA

PROFILED: American Muslim

Removed from an.. American Airline flight to Detroit because… A FLIGHT ATTENDANT FELT UNCOMFORTABLE | Mohamed Ahmed Radwan had boarded when a flight attendant used the loud speaker to say “Mohamed Ahmed, Seat 25-A: I will be watching you” when he asked her why she singled him out, she reportedly responded that he was being “too sensitive”. When he then reported the incident to another cabin crew member, he was told he must leave the plane as he had made her feel “uncomfortable”.


November 24, 2015 | Newark Liberty Airport, New Jersey, USA

PROFILED: Contributing editor at The New Inquiry

Removed from a.. United Airlines flight to Istanbul for… BEING THE ONLY VISIBLE MUSLIM | On the flight of about 200 passengers, 30-year-old Kameelah Rasheed explained that the only thing to single her out was that she was ’the only visible Muslim person’ on board due to her hijab.Initially she was allowed on flight after undergoing security checks and questioning by customs officers. However, she was forced to leave before the plane could take off and was interrogated by an FBI agent for over two hours.Kameelah Rasheed said: “It was an attempt to humiliate and ostracise me.”


May 29, 2016 | Chicago, USA

PROFILED: Director of Interfaith Engagement and associate chaplain at North-western University

Altercation in a Washington bound United Airlines after… a MUSLIM PASSANGER WAS WAS DENIED AN UNOPENED SODA CAN BECAUSE SHE COULD USE IT ‘AS A WEAPON’ | When Tahera Ahmed requested a soft drink she was handed an opened one. She asked for an unopened can for hygienic reasons but was falsely informed by a flight attendant that it is against United Airlines policy to give people unopened canned beverages.

When Ahmed confronted the flight attendant with the fact that the man seated next to her was handed an unopened can of beer the attendant said ‘It’s because you would use it as a weapon.’” Ahmad said she then asked the other passengers, “Did you all just witness this discrimination?” and she claims another passenger muttered “you Muslim” and told her to “shut the f**k up”.

Tahera Ahmed said: “This isn’t about me and a soda can, it’s about systemic injustice that is perpetuated throughout our community.”

If you or anyone you know as been subject to racial or religious profiling please contact: | or call 44+(0)20 8863 8586 (office hours UK time) | +44 (0) 7768341325 (all other times) – Compiled by Elham Asaad Buaras – (c) The Muslim News 2016

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