More on Muslim family kicked off of AirTran flight for questioning

Yesterday, not long after Scott posted about the American family who are Muslim were removed from an AirTran flight at the Ronald Reagan International Airport in Washington D.C., I heard an interview on NPR with Atif Irfan, one of the family members.

Irfan explained in more detail what happened to create the misunderstanding. Because there were nine of them, the family had booked the last rows of the plane so they could all sit together. As they were walking down the aisle, he and a sister-in-law were discussing which part of the plane was the safest. His wife recalls that a “couple of girls” who heard their conversation thought they were talking about doing some sort of terrorist act. Federal marshals escorted them off the plane for questioning.

As Irfan explained, the men in the family have beards and the women have head coverings, but other than that they were wearing western style dress. He also said they had three small children with them. Usually, he is very careful about what he says as to not alarm people, but this time they weren’t thinking much about their conversation.

What amazes me about this story is not that the family was questioned, but that after the FBI cleared the family and asked AirTran to allow the family to fly, AirTran refused. Who did AirTran think the FBI were? Certainly the FBI had badges and obvious credentials. If the FBI aren’t listened to, that’s startling? Maybe there was a snafu in communication.

Irfan, by the way, has nothing but good things to say about the FBI who did get the family on a US Airways flight. AirTran has since offered restitution in a free flight home and reimbursement for the family’s US Airways flight and an apology.

After listening to Irfan, I was reminded about the importance of civility. For the family who, from what I can tell, stayed calm and collected throughout their experience, bravo. I’m wondering just how many other passengers would have behaved so well? It’s also a reminder that passengers do listen to conversations. What you say could be held against you.

By the way, Atif Irfan was born and raised in Detroit and now is a lawyer who lives in Alexandria, Virginia.