A student from the University of California in Berkeley was escorted off a Southwest Airlines flight in Los Angeles (LA) after another passenger reported him for speaking Arabic on his mobile phone.
Khairuldeen Makhzoomi – who emigrated to the US from Iraq with his family in 2010 after his father was killed by Saddam Hussein's regime – said he was talking about a dinner he had just attended where UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon gave a speech when he was overheard.
"I was very excited about the event so I called my uncle to tell him about it," said Makhzoomi, 26. A passenger apparently misheard his use of the common Arabic phrase "inshallah" ("god willing") as "shahid" (or "martyr") and reported him to the crew, according to the Daily Californian.
An airline employee then escorted him off the plane and asked him why he was speaking Arabic, said Makhzoomi.
Makhzoomi and his luggage were searched in the terminal while half a dozen police officers, some with dogs, watched.
"That is when I couldn't handle it and my eyes began to water," said Makhzoomi. "The way they searched me and the dogs, the officers, people were watching me and the humiliation made me so afraid because it brought all of these memories back to me" from life in Iraq. He was released by the FBI later that day, was refunded his money and flew Delta back to Oakland.
He said he he does not want any money for his ordeal — just an apology from Southwest. A Southwest statement said that the flight crew decided to investigate "potentially threatening comments" made by Makhzoomi.
"We wouldn't remove passengers from flights without a collaborative decision rooted in established procedures," the statement reads. "We regret any less than positive experience on our aircraft. Southwest neither condones nor tolerates discrimination of any kind."
Late last year, Southwest barred two Palestinian-Americans from flying after a passenger complained that they made him feel unsafe. The Philadelphia pizza shop owner and his friend called the police and were eventually allowed to board the Chicago flight back home.
One of the men, Maher Khalil, said he told gate agent: "If that person doesn't feel safe, let them take the bus. We're American citizens just like everybody else."