Muslim men blame racial profiling for flight cancellation

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An American Airlines flightImage source, Reuters
Image caption,
The airline said they cancelled the flight due to "concerns raised by a crew member and a passenger".

Two Muslim men in the US have demanded an investigation after they say they were subjected to racial and religious profiling on a flight home to Dallas.

Abderraoof Alkhawaldeh and Issam Abdallah allege their flight was cancelled because crew members did not feel comfortable flying with the men.

"It was the most humiliating day of my life," Mr Abdallah told reporters.

An American Airlines statement said "concerns raised by a crew member and a passenger" forced the cancellation.

"American and all of its regional partners have an obligation to take safety and security concerns raised by crew members and passengers seriously," the statement read.

What happened on the flight?

Mr Alkhawaldeh and Mr Abdallah made the allegations in a news conference organised by the Council for American-Islamic Relations and broadcast on Facebook.

On 14 September, both men were booked to travel from Birmingham, Alabama home to Dallas, Texas on an American Airlines flight operated by regional carrier Mesa Airlines. They were travelling separately, but recognised one another from the local Muslim community and waved to each other on board.

An announcer said the plane was delayed, and Mr Abdallah went to the bathroom. When he came out, he said a flight attendant was standing by the door "like she was eavesdropping".

Shortly afterwards the crew told all passengers that the flight was cancelled and they had to disembark the plane. Mr Alkhawaldeh said he heard one attendant telling a passenger this was for security reasons.

Once off the plane, the pair said they were approached by a plain-clothes man, uniformed officers and later by an FBI agent.

This agent took Mr Abdallah into a private room and allegedly asked him his name and about his job, and said his luggage would be searched again.

When Mr Abdallah asked what was happening, the agent allegedly said airline staff had called the police and told them they were "not comfortable flying" with him. The reason, the agent allegedly said, was that Mr Abdallah "went to the restroom and... flushed twice".

According to Mr Abdallah, the agent apologised to him and said he could go and catch his rescheduled flight. "I felt [they were] discriminating against my ethnicity, my religion," Mr Abdallah said.

All the passengers were rebooked on a later flight to Dallas.

What did the airline say?

"We're committed to providing a positive experience to everyone who travels with us," the American Airlines statement read.

"Our team is working with Mesa to review this incident, and we have reached out to Mr Alkhawaldeh and Mr Abdallah to better understand their experience."

The airline has faced accusations of discrimination in the past.

And in 2017, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), a human rights group, warned black flyers that American Airlines "could subject [travellers to] disrespectful, discriminatory or unsafe conditions".

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