Student Booted From Flight Over Phone Call

Khairuldeen Makhzoomi calls it anti-Muslim bias
By Neal Colgrass,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 17, 2016 2:45 PM CDT
Student Booted From Plane Over Phone Call in Arabic
A Southwest airlines jet taxis before taking off in this file photo.   (AP Photo/LM Otero)

Southwest Airlines recently removed a college student from a flight after he was heard speaking Arabic on his cellphone, the New York Times reports. The student, Khairuldeen Makhzoomi—who had emigrated to the US from Iraq with his family in 2010—says he was only talking about a dinner he had attended where UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon gave a speech. "I was very excited about the event so I called my uncle to tell him about it," says the 26-year-old. But a passenger apparently misheard his use of the common Arabic phrase "inshallah" (or "god willing") as "shahid" (or "martyr") and reported him on the April 6 flight out of LAX, the Daily Californian reports. According to Makhzoomi, an employee escorted him off the plane and asked why he was speaking Arabic.

"I said to him, 'This is what Islamophobia got this country into,' and that made him so angry," says the UC Berkeley student. "That is when he told me I could not go back on the plane." Taken to a terminal, Makhzoomi says he and his luggage were searched while onlookers and half a dozen cops watched. "That is when I couldn’t handle it and my eyes began to water," says Makhzoomi, whose father was killed by Saddam Hussein's regime. Released by the FBI later that day, Makhzoomi got a refund from Southwest and arrived at his Oakland destination on Delta Air Lines 8 hours later than expected. Makhzoomi says he doesn't want any money for his ordeal—just an apology from Southwest. Makhzoomi's case isn't so unusual: Six Muslims have already been pulled off flights this year, an expert says, including one on a Southwest flight just last week, CBS Baltimore reports. (More Southwest Airlines stories.)

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