Imams Suing After Being Kicked Off Charlotte-Bound Flight

May 10th, 2011 by Staff

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – The lawyer for two Imams who were kicked off a Charlotte-bound flight said they are suing for damages.
The announcement came as it was learned at least seven Imams who were traveling to Charlotte last weekend were denied boarding. They were attending a national conference on “Islamophobia,” fear of Islam, sponsored by the North American Imams Federation.
“They were embarrassed and humiliated, and there’s no proof this was over actual safety concerns,” said Mo Idlibi, attorney for the Imams.
It started Friday morning when an Atlantic Southeast Airlines pilot — doing business as Delta Connection — in Memphis told two Imams to get off his flight to Charlotte. When they returned to the gate, the Imams were re-screened as the flight left the gate. Idlibi said a Delta representative called the flight back to the gate and cleared the Imams for re-boarding, but the pilot again refused. The Imams were booked on a later flight.
Idlibi also revealed that Friday evening, two Imams were denied boarding in New York by American Airlines. One was subsequently allowed on the plane, but after leaving for the taxiway, it returned to the gate. Idlibi said the one Imam was removed from the flight and detained for more than 90 minutes in jet bridge before security officials decided to allow him to fly the next morning instead. His father, the Imam who was denied boarding altogether, was forced to drive to Charlotte. Idlibi said at least three other passengers had similar experiences in New York and Minneapolis.
Several participants from last weekend’s conference, including Chairman Imam Eltayeb Abuelyaman, said it was no surprise their fellow religious leaders were what they called targets of discrimination. Abuelyaman said whenever he flies, he faces extra security screening 95 percent of the time.
“Because I’m a Muslim, I’m being selected. That’s all,” he said.
But they said pilots in Memphis and New York crossed the line when they denied boarding to the Imams after they were cleared to fly by the Transportation Security Administration and the airlines.
“I think the very fact that you base the judgment on the look is where the problem should be,” said Safaa Zarzour, Secretary General of the Islamic Society of North America. “We should get beyond that. An Imam is no different than a priest, a woman who has her garb over her head, is no different than a nun.”
To get a legal perspective, Channel 9 went to attorney Jim Chandler, who does aviation litigation. He said who boards a plane is ultimately up to the pilot.
“The fact that TSA clears someone to board a plane does not usurp a pilot’s authority,” he said.
Chandler said a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in February of this year gave pilots even broader authority than before. In Alaska Airlines v. Azza Eid, the Court ruled “the Captain has wide discretion to make judgments for the safety of the aircraft. It overturned an appeals court ruling that said pilots should take the time to fully investigate actual threats before making a decision. But the Supreme Court said that might cause pilots “to err on the side of avoiding passenger lawsuits rather than to err, as they should, on the side of caution.” It went on to say, “A Captain might not take decisive action when he should, which could result in serious consequences for the passengers and crew.”
“Essentially the pilots now, on any issue of passenger safety, are the final word,” Chandler said.
The Memphis pilots reportedly claimed passengers on the flight were concerned with the Imams being on the plane, something the Imams deny. Instead, they felt this was a result of fear and ignorance on the part of the pilot, and all they want in the future is equal treatment.
In their lawsuit, the Imams are seeking unspecified damages for the ridicule and discrimination they claimed they faced. They also seek to have the pilots undergo diversity education and training.
“Just because of my name, just because I am Muslim, it doesn’t mean that I am a terrorist,” Abuelyaman said.

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