By Nourhan El-Sebahy
Two Palestinian-American passengers were barred from boarding a Southwest Airlines flight between Chicago and Philadelphia because they were speaking in Arabic. The incident reflects how much global fears have grown due to the recent Paris attacks.
Maher Khalil and Anase Ayad were boarding the Southwest Airlines plane, but a company employee informed them apologetically that they were not allowed to board the plane as another passenger heard them speaking in Arabic and is afraid of being on the flight with them.
Chicago Midway Airport security services and police interrogated the two passengers before allowing them on the plane.
Khalil said in comments to NBC Chicago network that several passengers on the flight requested from him to open a white box he was carrying and reveal its contents. “When I opened it, I shared with them the ‘baklawa’ I had,” Khalil said.
Incidents such as these on United States domestic flights often occur with passengers from the Middle East or citizens with Middle Eastern origins. In Chicago, the same airline asked six passengers to disembark a plane and board another flight before taking-off to Houston.
Southwest Airlines said those passengers wanted to sit close to each other and asked several people to switch their seats. “We couldn’t handle the situation without delaying the trip, so we booked places for these passengers to be boarded in another plane later in the same day.”
Another incident occurred in Florida where a Spirit Airlines flight heading to Minneapolis had to turn back and land in Fort Lauderdale after a passenger said he heard the word “bomb” in a conversation between two passengers.