While companies like Dunkin’ Donuts were working to combat bigotry, others were fueling it. Toward the end of last week, several airlines were involved in incidents in which Arab-American passengers were thrown off flights because fellow passengers—and in one particularly disturbing case, airline employees—refused to fly with them.
Northwest Airlines acknowledged it had removed three Arab-American men from a flight from Minneapolis to Philadelphia Friday, after objections from other passengers. The airline then defended its actions, claiming new security rules gave it permission to “reaccommodate” passengers. “It grew to a point where it would have been unreasonable to have all the passengers and crew board this particular flight,” said Kathy Peach, a spokeswoman for Northwest. “It had just become an uncomfortable situation for everyone involved.”
The Council on American-Islamic Relations reacted immediately: “This is racial and religious profiling of the worst kind. Both the passengers and the airplane personnel should be ashamed of their actions.”
At least other airlines involved had the decency to be embarrassed by their actions. After a Pakistani (they’re our new best friends, for those who haven’t been following world events) passenger was removed from a flight in San Antonio last week, because the flight crew didn’t feel safe, the airlines said it was aware of the incident and “takes this matter very seriously.”
Similarly, US Airways was quick to issue a statement after two businessmen from Pakistan were ordered off a flight from Orlando to Baltimore. An airline agent suggested they take the train itself. This was just days after the company’s chairman, Stephen Wolf, sent out a special bulletin to employees. “It is important to remind ourselves,” the bulletin said, that “we must show the greatest respect, indeed, support for our Muslim, Arab-American and Middle Eastern co-workers and customers.”
A similar message went out from American Airlines chairman Donald Carty, the day after the terrorist attacks, which included the hijacking of two American planes. “There is one emotion that we must avoid at all costs,” said Carty. “That emotion is hatred. My fear is that it will be all too easy to direct our collective grief, anger and shock in ways that treat our Arab, Muslim and other Middle Eastern employees and customers with less than the absolute courtesy and respect that they deserve—because of stereotypes that we know in our heads and hearts are just not true. We simply cannot do that.”