ADC has documented numerous reports of arbitrary airline removals by Allegiant, Spirit, Delta, American Airlines, Southwest, and United Airlines. In May, Economics Professor Guido Menzio was removed off an American Airlines operated flight because the passenger sitting next to him thought that the Algebra calculations he was scribbling were Arabic, and thus were a “suspicious” foreign language. In May, United Airlines made an emergency landing to remove a mother and her child with autism off the plane citing “behavior issues.” In April, Southwest Airlines removed UC Berkley student off a plane for speaking Arabic. In March, JetBlue Airlines removed two Muslim women off a flight in Boston because a crewmember stated the women were staring at her and she felt uncomfortable. Additionally, in November 2015, two Arab-Americans were temporarily denied boarding on a Southwest flight because other passengers heard them speaking Arabic and complained
Airlines, as common carriers, should not be allowed to arbitrarily remove passengers off planes just because they speak Arabic, look Arabic, or write something that appears to be Arabic to another passenger. Currently, under the Airline Deregulation Act, airlines have broad discretion to remove passengers who they deem “inimical to safety”, but are prohibited from removing passengers for discriminatory or arbitrary reasons. However, the burden is placed upon the removed passenger to file a complaint and prove that the airline’s removal decision was arbitrary and capricious. This is an unfair burden, as the airlines are in a much better position to bear the burden of proof that their decision was reasonable under the circumstances. Additionally, given that consumers pay airlines to provide a service, the least airlines can do is make sure their passengers are treated fairly and see if there are areas for improvement in removal procedures.
Know Your Rights:
Guidance for Airline Personnel on Nondiscrimination in Air Travel
Passengers’ Right to Fly Free from Discrimination