Two Muslim men sue airline following removal from flight over Arabic text

Two Muslim men sue airline following removal from flight over Arabic text
Two Muslim men, who were removed from a flight after a non-Arabic speaking passenger raised concerns over harmless text messages written in Arabic, filed a lawsuit against Alaska Airlines last week.
2 min read
10 August, 2022
The two men were 'humiliated' by the airline staff according to the lawsuit [source: Getty]

Two Sudanese-American Muslim men have filed a lawsuit against Alaska Airlines after they were thrown off a grounded flight for speaking and texting in Arabic. 

Abobakkr Dirar and Mohamed Elamin were removed from an aircraft which was due to travel from Seattle to San Francisco in February 2020 after a non-Arabic speaking fellow passenger complained when he saw text messages in Arabic. 

The airline staff then proceeded to "humiliate" the two men, according to the lawsuit, subjecting them to further security measures even after they told police the men were no threat and later, refusing to let them fly together on rebooked flights

The lawsuit accused the airline of a federal and state violation of the men's civil rights and was filed last week on 2 August. 

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"Alaska Airlines' discrimination [against] these men not only interrupted their business trip but also caused them serious long-lasting emotional distress," said the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), which first publicised the incident in December 2020, according to The Washington Post. 

The text messages which sparked the incident were later revealed to be harmless jokes between friends. One used a rocket emoji to indicate that a photo was "the bomb". 

Several of the additional security measures enforced by airline staff took place after Dirar offered his phone to the manager, who deemed the messages to be "completely innocuous," according to the complaint. 

Dirar said he was pursuing legal recourse because he didn't want other passengers to go through the same experience. 

"When we travelled that day, we were not treated the same as other people, and it made me feel like I was not equal to other people," he said. "I don't want this to happen again, to anyone, Muslim or not Muslim."

When asked why the suit was not filed earlier, Dirar and Elamin’s attorney Luis Segura told CNN that in December 2020 the airline promised to conduct an internal investigation. However, they never reached out to the clients. 

The New Arab contacted the airline to inquire about this internal investigation but received no response by the time of publication. 

In a statement sent to CNN and The Washington Post, Alaska Airlines said: “Our greatest responsibility is to ensure that our flight operations are safe every day and that includes complying with federal regulations on investigating any passenger safety reports.

"Since this case remains pending litigation, we're unable to share any further comment or details at this time."