AirTran Airways, which kicked nine Muslims off a New Year's Day flight to Florida, apologized to the ejected passengers and announced that it would reimburse them for the tickets they were forced to purchase to fly with another airliner. Some of the other passengers on the flight reported hearing a suspicious remark about "airplane security".
"We apologize to all of the passengers — to the nine who had to undergo extensive interviews from the authorities and to the 95 who ultimately made the flight," the statement said. "Nobody on Flight 175 reached their destination on time on New Year's Day, and we regret it."
According to the Associated Press, the group of Muslims had just sat down when they were approached by federal air marshals and escorted off the plane while passengers glared at them suspiciously.
Atif Irfan, one of those who was booted off the flight, said he believed they were evicted because of their appearance. The men had beards and the women wore headscarves, traditional Muslim attire.
"My wife and I are generally very careful about what we say when we step on the plane," he said, adding that they had received suspicious looks in the past. "We're used to this sort of thing — but obviously not to this extent."
Airline officials said the steps taken were necessary. However, two U.S. Muslim advocacy groups strongly disagree. The Muslim Public Affairs Council is demanding that federal officials investigate and the Council for American-Islamic Relations filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Transportation, saying: "It is incumbent on any airline to ensure that members of the traveling public are not singled out or mistreated based on their perceived race, religion or national origin."