Arabic Speaker Briefly Barred From Flight After Complaint

Other passenger was apparently uncomfortable
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Nov 20, 2015 2:32 PM CST
Arabic Speaker Briefly Barred From Flight After Complaint
In this Feb. 6, 2012 photo, Southwest airplanes are seen on the tarmac in Baltimore.   (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

A Philadelphia man says he is humiliated and upset after he was briefly stopped from boarding a flight from Chicago when another passenger overheard him speak Arabic, making him uncomfortable. Pizza shop owner Maher Khalil emigrated from Palestine 15 years ago and is an American citizen. He says he had never experienced discrimination before the incident Wednesday at Midway International Airport. Khalil said he was chatting with a friend while waiting to board a Southwest Airlines flight. When he approached the gate, he said, they were told they couldn't board because another passenger felt uncomfortable. "We were just chatting, like everybody else," Khalil said in a telephone interview.

Khalil called the police for help, but when they arrived, some passengers assumed it was because the officers were responding to a terrorist threat. The two men were later allowed to board. As Khalil walked to his seat at the back of the plane, some were suspicious of a white box he was carrying and asked to see what was inside, he said. To ease the tension, Khalil opened it and shared the baklava he'd bought with a few passengers. Southwest Airlines Co. said the flight departed 10 minutes late after a disagreement with two customers. The Dallas-based airline says its employees are trained to address "passenger situations" to ensure the safety of flights. (More Arabic stories.)

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