What’s the problem with Southwest Airlines?


I have become drearily familiar with stories of Muslims getting kicked off flights because other passengers were frightened by the way they dressed, spoke, looked, or otherwise acted in ways that Real Merkins don’t. These stories are becoming so common that I have not even bothered to comment on them. But one thing that struck me recently is how often Southwest Airlines is involved in these peremptory bootings of Muslims.

In the past we have had reports like this one and this one about Muslim or Arabic-speaking passengers being kinked off flights because of complaints by other passengers who were frightened by people who were different from them.

Now we have the case of a Somali headscarf-wearing woman who was kicked off a flight after she asked a fellow passenger whether they could exchange seats and the other person agreed. Note that this airline does not assign seats at all but has an open seating policy where people select seats on a first-come basis.

Then there was a University of California, Berkeley student who was not only kicked off his flight but refused to be allowed on another Southwest flight and then be harassed by security and the FBI afterwards. His offense? He had signed off a phone conversation by saying ‘inshallah’ and a fellow passenger overhead him and reported him to the flight crew.

If you have spent any time at all in an Arabic speaking country you will be familiar with the phrase “inshallah’. It is used routinely in conversations and roughly means ‘god willing’. It is used especially when referring to something one hopes or expects to happen in the future and it will be dropped into conversations that take place in English too, such as “Let’s meet next Tuesday, inshallah”. It originates in the idea that all future plans will materialize only if god wants them to.

It is also used as a sign off for conversations, the Arabic equivalent of ‘goodbye’. For many people it is now merely a reflexive statement devoid of any religious content. In that it is similar to the word ‘goodbye’ which also has religious roots that many are now ignorant of. It is a contraction of ‘god be with ye’ but nowadays few of us say it with any religious intent.

Southwest is an airline that prides itself on being different, more causal and free-wheeling, more passenger-friendly than others. What these stories reveal is that they lack good sense on dealing with fearful passengers and airline crew members and are easily persuaded to act in a discriminatory manner.

Comments

  1. StevoR says

    Those are indeed disturbing and unfair cases reflecting the ignorance and paranoia of some passengers and the airline.

    I thought the use and meaning of “inshallah” was really pretty well known.

    OTOH I have heard when non-Muslim people fly on Arabic or Islamic airlines the idea that the plane will land safely “god willing” is a bit of a worry!

    Incidentally as many may already know “Shalom” and “Salaam” both mean peace which is a much nicer sentiment as a greeting & farewell I reckon. ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shalom )

    Southwest is an airline that prides itself on being different, more causal and free-wheeling, more passenger-friendly than others.

    For a certain majority of passengers anyhow with the notable obvious exception here of Muslim passengers.

    Of course, there are good historical reasons why a lot of non-Muslims are uncomfortable with Muslims travelling on aircraft because of the long history of Jihadists hijacking planes going back to PLO “terror on the airlines”* days well before the 9-11 atrocity. I also recall an episode of a TV legal drama – think twas ‘Boston Legal’? – where a fictional airline came up with a policy of refusing to allow Muslims to fly at all and this was fictionally found to be legally okay if ethically wrong. Not sure how that would stack up in reality legally though.

    Its a sensitive and difficult issue and I can see both sides here because, yes, we have Muslims as a collective vatsly generalised group being treated totally unfairly and hardly any of them actually are terrorists. OTOH, other non-Muslims passengers do have some claim to be reasonably concerns about Muslim plane passengers given the well-known history of Muslim – specifically Jihadist – terrorists committing appalling atrocities in the air and using civilian planes as weapons of ransom and warfare :

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/1578183.stm

    So why should other non-Muslim innocent people be made uncomfortable and fearful unnecessarily in light of the historical realities when flying is already something that makes a sizeable percentage of people scared? Why cause extra stress and mental anguish to people who don’t deserve and whose fears are certainly founded in historical and political realities even if these are exaggerated fears?

    Therefore in some ways it’d be understandable if Muslims were simply not allowed on at least certain flights or had conditions imposed on them whilst flying given the record of Islamic terrorism. I don’t know how we can really solve and reconcile this with education being a part but also perhaps other methods and policies like maybe designated flights for Muslims and for the majority of Western airline passengers who understandably if unreasonably afraid of them. Of course, Muslims have the long list of Islamists terrorist and attacks to blame for how they are – usually unfairly – perceived. If only the Islamists have never existed and never waged their jihad ..

    * ”We didn´t start the fire” Billy Joel, three minutes thirty one seconds mark :

  2. Mano Singham says

    StevoR @3,

    That’s it. I’ve had enough. Your racism is really disgusting. I simply cannot tolerate it any more.

    You are banned from my site. Find some other place to peddle your anti-Muslim bile.

    Congratulations! You are the first person I have banned.

  3. sonofrojblake says

    they lack good sense on dealing with fearful passengers

    Maybe with Trump in the ascendant they sniff a mood where pandering to lowest-common-denominator racism is the way forward to profits?

  4. flex says

    The problem with Southwest is likely that it is an USA Airline with almost all of it’s flights in the USA.

    According to Wiki, it has 97 destinations, of which 11 of them are outside of the US, and all of their 11 international flights remain in the north half of the Western Hemisphere. They do not have flights to Europe or Asia.

    I suspect this lack of exposure to Muslim culture and language by the flight crews is as much to blame as the fear of the people who fly Southwest. If Southwest Airlines grows into an inter-continental airline, I would expect some improved cultural training for their flight crew as well as increased exposure to people who are not embedded in traditional US culture.

  5. flex says

    Maybe I should have used the word “contemporary” rather than “traditional” when describing US culture. Although bigotry seems to have been one of our founding principles in the US. In my experience, those of us in the US who do not fear other cultures are, and have always been, a minority.

    I keep hoping that my son’s generation, raised on the internet, might start to break that trend. It’s a lot easier to be exposed to different cultures these days, assuming you look for them. During my grade-school days we were exposed to other cultures, but it was minimal and looking back at it now, the information was often faulty. We would spend a week studying American Indian culture, 1 hour a day for 5 days, and then the same time spent on Mexican culture. However, as far as I can tell my experience was abnormal. People my same age didn’t even get that much exposure. I had a somewhat unique public school experience (US public school, not British). But even with what we were taught, we never studied the cultures of China, Japan, Hindu, Arabia, Tunisia, Brazil, etc.

  6. komarov says

    So why should other non-Muslim innocent people be made uncomfortable and fearful unnecessarily in light of the historical realities when flying is already something that makes a sizeable percentage of people scared? Why cause extra stress and mental anguish to people who don’t deserve and whose fears are certainly founded in historical and political realities even if these are exaggerated fears?

    Therefore in some ways it’d be understandable if Muslims were simply not allowed on at least certain flights or had conditions imposed on them whilst flying given the record of Islamic terrorism.

    For similar historical reasons, Europeans are no longer allowed to travel outside their continent, lest they try to take over foreign countries and turn them into colonies. Again. This is a perfectly understandable if somewhat exaggerated concern on the part of Non-Europeans.
    Likewise, anything that looks even remotely US-American is a legitimate target for any sort of preemptive strike you care to mount. Hit them before they hit you. Again.

  7. aashiq says

    Bigotry is bigotry. I hope that someone who is kicked off presses charges and gets a financial settlement. This is ultimately the way to get noticed.

  8. dianne says

    Random note: The “terror on the airlines” referenced in the Billy Joel song was about the hijackings in the 1960s and 1970s, which were mostly people wanting to be flown to Cuba. Very few, if any, of these hijackings were committed by Islamic people at all, much less Islamic nutjobs seeking martyrdom. As far as I know, though, virtually all hijackers throughout history have been male. Perhaps men shouldn’t be allowed on planes, given their record.

  9. sonofrojblake says

    Very few, if any, of these hijackings were committed by Islamic people at all

    One word: Entebbe. Possibly the single most famous hijacking of the decade, certainly the most dramatised.

    Also February 1972 Lufthansa, October 1972 also Lufthansa, 1977 also Lufthansa (when I was growing up, I assumed if you flew Lufthansa you were going to get hijacked by Palestinians. What can I say, I was 8.)

    much less Islamic nutjobs seeking martyrdom

    That was the interesting thing about 9/11 – since the 60s accepted wisdom if armed nutjobs took over your plane was to keep your head down in the reasonable expectation that if you didn’t draw attention to yourself, you’d survive. It’s not a plan that’s ever likely to work again, especially not for anyone who looks a bit swarthy.

    On a related note, when looking up info to make this post, I came across this fascinating nugget:
    “October 15, 1970: Aeroflot Flight 244 was hijacked from Batumi, Adjar ASSR, Georgian SSR, to Trabzon, Turkey by a Lithuanian national and his son. An air hostess was killed and some other crew were injured in a shootout. The hijackers later received American citizenship.”
    How times change.

  10. aashiq says

    A point of clarification: Palestinians are not all Muslims. During that period the Palestinian terrorist in the news was George Habash….Christian. Yassir Arafat’s wife was….Christian.

    In recent years Israelis have been trying to make it look like Palestinians are all Muslim, to appease Christian Zionists who are itching for the next crusade.

  11. sonofrojblake says

    Good point – did not know that Wadie Haddad (who organised the hijacking the led to Entebbe) was also Christian who broke away from Habash’s org. I’ve learned something interesting there – thanks.
    It’s also notable that the PFLP was secretly funded by the KGB. Wheels within wheels.

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