Update: SouthwestAir apologized to Abassi Wednesday with the following statement: ""We sincerely apologize for the customer's inconvenience, and we regret that she was unable to travel as scheduled," the Southwest statement said. "We accommodated her on the next flight to San Jose, and we issued her a travel voucher as a gesture of good will for her inconvenience."
Irum Abassi of San Diego was at the airport Sunday heading to San Jose to finish some research for her Masters degree when she decided to use the time to call her service provider to change her data plan.
Just before takeoff, when the cabin doors were still open, Abassi said into her phone “Hurry, I’ve got to go.”
Soon after, Abassi was told by SouthwestAir crewmembers that she could not fly to San Jose on that flight and was quickly escorted off the plane by TSA agents.
Three days later, Abassi along with members of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) shared her story. They believe it is an example of hostility that has surfaced because of hearings called by U.S. Rep. Peter King (R) NY.
The chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee launched controversial hearings last week on how to combat homegrown terrorism and Muslim extremism in America.
Abassi went through Lindbergh Field’s typical security measures including a secondary inspection and was cleared but when a flight attendant alleged that she heard Abassi say “it’s a go” into her cell phone just before takeoff, the flight crew called TSA agents and successfully removed her from the plane.
“Two Southwest agents apologized and told me the captain has the final say and they don’t feel comfortable with you on the flight,” Abassi said Wednesday.
“I tried to explain that I have a lot of work to do and they still said ‘We will put you on the next flight,’” she said.
Even though TSA agents removed Abassi from the plane, they did not give her further security scrutiny said Edgar Hopida, spokesperson for CAIR.
They didn’t pat her down or take her to a room to be interrogated he said. Agents instead escorted her to the SouthwestAir ticket counter to get another flight.
“I was in tears,” said Abassi.
She handed her purse and phone for inspection but she said security didn't even touch it.
“They said 'We know you're clear but we cannot let you go on this flight because they are not willing to accept you,'” she said.
The San Diego State University graduate student is a U.S. citizen who has lived in the country for 10 years. She is finishing her Masters in Psychology at San Jose State and regularly makes the trip from San Diego to the Bay Area in one day because she takes care of children during the week.
She said she often wears a headscarf and has never been treated in this manner.
“My heart is in tears that American is moving in a wrong direction,” said Hanif Mohebi, Executive Director of CAIR who believes cases like this are a direct result of the Congressional hearings.
CAIR acknowledged the verbal apology given to Abassi on Sunday but wants the airline to investigate further.
“This is the kind of thing that we’re concerned about,” said Hopida. “Was it that suspicious to be removed from a plane simply for being Muslim and having a headscarf on?”