A Muslim woman who was arrested on an American Airlines plane Saturday before its departure from New Jersey said that she was wrongfully singled out following a dispute with a white man traveling in first class.
Amani Al-Khatahtbeh, an activist and blogger, described alleged details about the dispute in a Twitter thread about an hour before her apparent arrest, saying it began at a Transportation Security Administration checkpoint in Newark Liberty international airport.
“I had the craziest experience in TSA this morning. An entitled white man behind me insisted on cutting me in line because I was ‘still taking my shoes off’,” Al-Khatahtbeh tweeted at 9:18 a.m., prior to her Charlotte, North Carolina-bound flight. “When I said he could wait like everyone else, he started going off about how he’s ‘pre check’ and ‘first class’.”
At 10:07, she tweeted: “Guys he made a complaint about me and @AmericanAir is attempting to remove me from the flight.” She then posted a 15-minute video to Facebook from the airplane in which a police officer eventually tells her she is under arrest.
“Literally they called the cops on me,” she said in the video. “This man in first class made a complaint about me because he cut me in line at TSA and now they literally have police coming to escort me off this flight right now, for no reason, literally taking this man’s word over mine.”
“He made me feel uncomfortable, this man sitting in first class. I’m a veiled Muslim woman on this flight and they’re taking his word for it.”
She claimed that she was being removed while the man wasn’t.
Authorities confirmed that an incident had taken place and officials said she has since been released.
The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey said: “This morning, the port authority police department received a request from American Airlines personnel at Newark Liberty international airport, who indicated the airline had directed a passenger to deplane from a flight, and that police assistance was needed. Police responded, and briefly took the individual into custody; she has been released. The port authority’s independent inspector general has begun an investigation.”
The port authority said she was charged with delay of transportation and trespass.
American Airlines said: “We are aware of an incident that took place during boarding of flight 2029 at Newark Liberty international airport. We are concerned by these allegations and our team is working to understand what occurred.”
The airline said that the flight did take off, delayed by about an hour. The airline said she was not on the flight. It’s unclear whether the man was taken off the plane.
TSA said the incident “is not a TSA matter”.
“No complaint was made by any passengers at the checkpoint. If there was a customer service issue on board the aircraft, that is an airline matter. In situations such as this, TSA has no involvement after a passenger clears the checkpoint and boards a flight,” the agency said.
“The man was directed to the TSA PreCheck® lane. The woman was directed to the non-TSA PreCheck lane, so they went in different directions to be screened.”
“An officer told both passengers to tone down the volume of the conversation,” TSA also said.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations released a statement on the incident, with Nihad Awad, the CAIR national executive director, saying: “The airline must immediately explain why it singled out Amani by contacting the police and ejecting her from a flight based on the word of a man who had allegedly harassed her.”
“Law enforcement must immediately release Amani from custody and conduct a full and transparent investigation into what happened,” said Selaedin Maksut, CAIR-New Jersey executive director, in a statement. “Any investigation must look into the conduct of the unidentified man who allegedly sparked this disturbing incident.”