Sunday, March 26, 2006

Muslims forced off plane
HAYWARD — A Muslim father and son from Hayward, California filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Transportation last week, accusing airline attendants of booting them off a flight because of their appearance.
Fazal Khan, 59, and his son, Mohammed Khan, 28, boarded a United Airlines flight from Los Angeles to Oakland on Jan. 31 wearing traditional South Asian tunics, white skullcaps and loose trousers. Both men also have long beards.
Before takeoff, attendants asked the Khans to vacate their seats and escorted them back to the terminal, said their lawyer, Shirin Sinnar of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights in San Francisco.
"They were essentially told, "You can't take this flight because the flight attendant is uncomfortable," Sinnar said.
The plane was operated by SkyWest Airlines, a regional feeder airline that serves as a carrier for some flights booked with the United Express service of United Airlines.
United Airlines spokesman Jeff Green said his company was "fully investigating" the allegations this week. Utah-based SkyWest is responsible for staff on the aircraft, he said.
SkyWest spokeswoman Sabrena Suite said that the regional airline also is looking into the complaint, adding "there is no room or excuse for discrimination" at SkyWest.
Sinnar said the Khans do not know of anything, other than their attire, that could have agitated the female flight attendant, who apparently expressed concern to the terminal crew about their presence.
An airline customer service representative walked onto the plane and asked the Khans to bring their carry-on handbags with them and return to the airport terminal, Sinnar said.
After escorting them out, the representative was "sympathetic" but said they could not return because the flight attendant was not comfortable with them on board, Sinnar said. With their check-in luggage still in the aircraft's cargo hold, the Khans were booked on a separate flight going to San Francisco International Airport a few hours later.
"The strange thing is no one took the bags off the first flight," Sinnar said. "If there was any thought they were a security risk, certainly their bags should have been removed."

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