Safety vs. Prejudice

Safety vs. Prejudice


Yesterday afternoon, a Muslim family with nine members including three children was ordered off an AirTran flight from Reagan National to Orlando. Passengers claimed members of the family had made suspicious remarks. The family claims they were just discussing the safest place to sit on the plane.

The FBI cleared the family and helped them secure another flight after AirTran declined to rebook them. AirTran claims they acted in accordance with federal safety guidelines.

Here are some questions: was this a case of blatant prejudice or an unfortunate misunderstanding? And did AirTran overact or, once they received reports of suspicious comments, did they have little choice but take the necessary precautions?

Then there’s the big question: do the advantages of racial profiling outweigh the negative consequences of holding different Americans to separate standards?


  • Rob

    Not sure how to defend AirTran…The FBI said there was no problem.

  • Vivifiant

    January 1st, 2008 —> The Statue of Liberty starts the New Year crying …

  • Mike

    I think it’s hard to say without knowing exactly what the passengers said. The linked story just says they were commenting about airport security or something, and even that was based on an interview with one of the people in question. You’d have to ask the other people on the plane what exactly they heard.

  • Mike


    The FBI concluded that the family was not a threat, but that does not necessarily mean the airline acted inappropriately. If I got on a plane and said something stupid like, “Hmm… I wonder if there’s a bomb on this plane”, the airline can kick me off the plane and re-screen everyone even if I am not actually a terrorist. I can tell the FBI I was just being stupid.

    Again, whether or not the airline was right depends on exactly what was said.

  • Luis

    It all comes down to freedom.

    After all, had a Caucasian passenger made the same ‘safety’ remark, none of this would have happened.

    The passengers, except one were all American citizens. It’s probable that Air Trans officials have not realized that you can be an American and have dark skin at the same time. They are free to have these conclusions.

    The passengers who reported the remark are free to be afraid of dark skinned people.

    Also, Air Trans officials are free to profile dark skin people.

    Likewise, in these difficult economic times, dark skinned Americans are free to boycott Air Trans and pick another airline that accepts non-Caucasian Americans.

    Given the tight profit margins for airlines, a mere one percent drop in passenger traffic can be devastating.

    Freedom does have its price.

  • Jim S

    Yeah, I think it was mostly prejudice and how that can cause a willingness to misconstrue what was said. I mean, terrorists would say something like that in English? I hate to tell these people a harsh truth but the terrorists who do these things have generally planned it out in advance and aren’t going to be fine tuning their plans in discussions on the plane. Can we show some tiny bit of logic here?

  • Mike

    Jim S,

    True, but does that mean I should dismiss anything suspicious I hear because they say it in English? I should always give them the benefit of the doubt, as long as they are speaking in English, no matter what is said? How long will it be until the terrorists exploit that loophole:

    “Yes, officer, I have a gun in my bag. But I took it out and showed it to you, so clearly I wasn’t intending to do anything bad with it or I would have tried to hide it.”

    (ok, that’s a little far, but you get what I’m saying I hope)

    Again, I come back to this: it depends on what exactly was said.

    (Oh, and I wouldn’t be surprised in there are some stupid/amateur terrorists out there).

  • Rich

    The problem with your position is that it was based on what one of the “suspects” *thought* the other passengers heard. Why not get a qoute from one of the passengers as to what they claim to have heard? Interesting how the reporter did not bother to include any remarks from the other passengers.

    I’m glad that professional investigators (FBI) determined that there was no threat. You cannot expect people who are not professional investigators to be able to determine what the intention of the 9 muslim passengers was based only on a few comments that were overheard.

    Gee, just think…a LAWYER gets on a plane in the US with 5 other adults wearing traditional muslim garbe. He then makes a few comments that can be overheard by other passengers. The other passengers become concerned and notify the pilot. The plane is de-boarded and screened. All of the passengers are re-screened as they board the plane again. Of course, the lawyer states that the comments were benign. I would not be surprised if the lawyer intended to cause concern that he could potentially exploit as grounds for a lawsuit. Would not be the first time…after all, isn’t the JOB of lawyers to put witnesses (other passengers on the plane) into a position where their accounts of what they witnessed are called into question by those who were not there (ie: the jury/judge, reporters, you, me, etc.)???

    I will say that I would doubt that an actual terrorist would board a plane (in the US) wearing turbins or headscarves….they would probably be more inclined to dress in a manner that would be less conspicuous.

    How’s this for a “tiny bit of logic”….
    Although most muslims are not terrorists, most terrorists *are* muslims. So, paying closer attention to muslims is not “profiling” or “racist”….it’s common sense. I’m not saying that you treat all muslims boarding a plane as if they intend to blow it up, but common sense says you are more aware of their actions.

    I suspect that you will call me a paranoid racist….

  • ShortWoman

    Tim McVeigh.

    William Krar.

    The Unabomber.

    Bruce Turnidge.

    I reject the theory that “most” terrorists are Muslims. Paying closer attention to Muslims can cause law enforcement officials to accidentally ignore actual suspicious activity.

  • Imperial Wizard

    I agree emphatically with my fellow KKK members that it depends on what was said and that we should depend on white christians for an unbiased account of what was said. After all, these are Muslins. They’re wearing turbines on their head! If that isn’t anti-American, I don’t know what is.

  • Trescml

    It is easier to abuse the rights of minorities than it is to try and come up with a system that protects everyone. Per the New York times the family was discussing the safest place to be on the plane. A question that if a white family was discussing would not get them kicked off a plane. There should be more common sense about what people say on an airplane.

  • Nick Benjamin

    I think there are multiple issues here. First some dude said something that some other dude thought was terroristic. The pilot (and two Air Marshals) agreed, so the flight was delayed two hours as every passenger was re-screened. Without knowing exactly what the first dude said, and what the second dude said the first dude said, you can’t know whether anybody was over-reacting.

    Then the FBI got involved and decided the whole thing was a misunderstanding. Which makes sense — the alleged “terrorists” were two brothers, their wives, a sister-in-law, three boys under the age of seven, and a family friend. No terrorist brings his two-year old nephew to a terror attack.

    So far everybody has acted in good faith, and there is no hard proof that anybody was racist.

    But AirTran then bans the entire family, including the three small boys, from all subsequent flights. To get to Orlando nine innocent people (including a two-year-old) had to fly on another airline. So unless AirTran has a really, really, really good excuse they’re in deep shit. AirTran had the opportunity to give it’s really good excuse, because the reporter interviewed one of their reps. Which means that a) AirTran’s PR people suck monkey balls, b) this reporter sucks, or c) they have no good excuse. If c) it’s clear that their DC operations are managed by a racist

    BTW, this article does not come from a national paper. It’s a DC paper. They have no interviews with other passengers because they have no reporters physically in Orlando to harass passengers as they get off the plane. They could do phone interviews, but that ain’t gonna be easy. First they’d have to get cell phone numbers, and those are not supposed to be easy to get. Second they’d have to convince somebody to spend an hour of his Orlando vacation talking about the flight down there. Disney World is a bit more fun than talking about a flight that already sucked up hours more vacation time than it was supposed to.

    So we’ll probably get the other passenger’s side of the story in a week or two, as they get home.

  • J. Harden

    Common sense solution: Anyone who reports suspicious behavior must, as well as the suspicious people, exit the plane and get a new flight. If one legitimately believes that there is a possible threat then they should be willing to sacrifice their spot on the plane. The problem is that there is not cost to the person reporting their suspicion and without cost there is no way of establishing the motive of the accuser.

  • Jeremy from New Jersey

    Three years ago I was a bartender in an upscale hotel bar in Baltimore. A regular guest came in on the fourth of July. He was South American, bearded, spoke little English and was carrying a suitcase. He was a regular guest, the staff all knew him.

    Within minutes of his arrival 14 guests in the bar had talked to me about the suspicious Arab with a suitcase. “What are you going to do about him?”. “Nothing.” I said. More guests called hotel security, they came and said they would do nothing.

    The guests, all white, upper middle class, were working themselves up into a frenzy. After 30 minutes, realizing the hotel wasn’t going to do anything, a group of the (bravest?) men surrounded the South American guy and yelled at him, “Why do you have the suitcase!? Take it to your room! TAKE IT TO YOUR ROOM! GET OUT OF HERE!!”

    Again, the man spoke little English. He was stunned.

    I broke up the mob, telling them, essentially, that this sh*t wasn’t going to fly. They disbanded with dirty looks. One couple that had LOVED me all night (tipping really well, telling me stories) snatched their money off the bar and the guy said, “This is the problem with America, too much freedom!” They left.

    About 15 minutes later, a polo-shirted numskull approaches the South American guy at the bar and says, “I’m with the FBI – you’re going to have to show me what’s in the suitcase!”

    I lost it at this point and told him he better show some ‘effin ID and probable cause. He hemmed and hawed until the guy said “no, no I can show you. Here look”. I told him he didn’t have to. He said it was OK and opened his suitcase to reveal socks and underwear and clothing. The “FBI” idiot had the nerve to root through the mans clothing. Finding nothing he simply said, “ok, good then” and walked away.

    So I’ve seen scared white people act stupid and rash, profile a Hispanic man with a beard and a suitcase (IN A HOTEL BAR!) as a Muslim terrorist, and come very close to physically assaulting him. I believe if the hotel staff hadn’t intervened it would have come to that.

    This airplane situation sounds like the same thing. The airline should have let them fly when it was determined safe. Frankly, they should have sat them right next to the idiots that did the misunderstanding.

    As far as a “tiny bit of logic”:

    Yes, please, open your suitcase bomb right here in the bar.

  • TerenceC

    The comment had to do with one of them mentioning the safest place on an airplane to sit – one of the gentlemen remarked “the jet is right outside my window”. That isn’t exactly a suspicious comment. The real issue is how long will Americans allow this type of BS to go on. 8 of the 9 people in this family were American citizens, and although they may be muslims – they are Americans and shouldn’t be treated that way.

  • Mike

    I agree with others than once the FBI gave the all clear, the airline should have let them back on. I don’t see why they didn’t, if the reporting is correct. My earlier comment was referring to whether the airline did the right thing to get them off the plane in the first place, which is a separate issue.

    Jeremy, I have no doubt that there are white people who would do that. The question here is whether the people acted appropriately in this case. So your story is stunning and informative, but doesn’t help answer the question for this specific incident.

    As for the person calling me a KKK member (was that directed at me?), I work closely with many people from India (I never asked if they were Christian, Hindu, or Muslim), and as recently as yesterday I defended Muslim’s right to wear burkas on another blog when almost every other commenter was talking about how they were going to destroy our culture. You are so quick to judge me as a KKK member based on a few comments urging caution before we jump to conclusions? Please read

  • Daski Kurosawa

    Gee thanks TerenceC, what if they weren’t Americans? What is so special about being American? Clearly, these people who got kicked off were not real Americans. Wait a couple years till times get really tough. We’re going to find out who the real Americans are.

  • Jim S

    Didn’t I mention what they said? The only way that what they were discussing would be suspicious is if they were being interpreted as discussing weak points of the plane to bomb. In reality their conversation was the same one I’ve had with other people when aboard a plane. I imagine it’s really a pretty common one.