Flying While Brown…Again.

Flying While Brown.jpg It shouldn’t be any surprise to people that we are ringing in 2009 with another one of these stories. (via RaceWire)

Nine Muslim passengers on a New Year’s Day flight on AirTran were kicked off a flight after others flying reportedly heard remarks about airport security. Because of the confusion, that was eventually cleared up, no one was able to fly.[RaceWire]

What could these “dangerous” remarks be? Did they say one of the handful of words that as brown people we are not allowed to say within a ten mile radius of an airport, including but apparently not exclusively, the following words: bomb, terrorist, Bin Laden, explode, die, Bush, fire, shoe, fertilizer, Allahu Akbar?

Mr. Irfan turned to his wife…wondered aloud where the safest place to sit on the airplane would be — the front? The rear? Over the wing?

But passengers sitting behind them evidently overheard the remark, saw Mr. Irfan’s beard and his wife’s head scarf, and grew concerned…The worried passengers contacted flight attendants, who contacted Transportation Security Administration officials, and soon, Mr. Irfan and his wife were off the plane and being questioned in the jetway.[NYT]

Oh! The trigger word was ‘safest.’ How ironic.

Before long…the F.B.I. concluded that the incident was obviously just a misunderstanding, and told AirTran officials that the family was cleared to travel. But he said AirTran still refused to rebook them, offering only to refund their tickets. The F.B.I. agents helped the family get on a later USAirways flight to Orlando, but those seats cost them twice as much.[NYT]

It took me a while to get to posting this up because frankly, this is a dime a dozen story. In 2008 alone, the Transportation Department reported 87 cases of complaints alleging discrimination by airlines and only four were security related. Flying while brown stories happen all the time. I’m tired of blogging about stories like this and that these incidences are still happening. These stories are a part of our lives on the margin and being brown. I’m not implying that we should stand by the wayside and merely accept the injustice. Which is exactly what Mr. Irfan didn’t do. Instead he got organized. AirTran issued an apology but it seems really weak.

Security is a shared responsibility and this incident highlights the multiple layers of security that are in place in today’s aviation environment. While ultimately this issue proved to be a misunderstanding, the steps taken were necessary.[AirTran]

D.C. delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton is asking for a congressional hearing on the incident.

She said that reports of similar incidents among other airlines show that personnel are confused about how to judge security risks and respond to them. Norton said airlines are allowing “amateurs” to make serious decisions, and that Congress has an obligation to address the incidents.[USAToday]

I for one never flew AirTran because of their cramped seats. But now I have even more reason not to.

This entry was posted in Aviation by Taz. Bookmark the permalink.

About Taz

Taz is an activist, organizer and writer based in California. She is the founder of South Asian American Voting Youth (SAAVY), curates and blogs at Follow her at

106 thoughts on “Flying While Brown…Again.

  1. It is indeed fun to see desi community losing its ba**s this fast. maybe it is feat of the big bad gora, maybe it is the conviction that taking a stand against racism makes them something less than the gora.. but the way some of them basically bend over (backwards, if you want to keep it clean) to support the gora types by justifying racism is.. entertaining to say the least.

    Kumar and his type – I hope when you fly next time some gora decides that he/she does not like your skin color and decide that you pose a safety risk. That the airline decides that there’s no legal risk in booting you off the flight, and despite the FBI, CIA, heck obama himself coming and pleading that you guys are too timid to be of any danger, they refuse to let you fly. That you guys have to buy a late airticket from another airline at several times the original price (ofr, in the end, it is not pride, it is not shame, but losing some money alone that will make a desi sad).

    then we will see if you will sit there and say, ‘oh well, my bad, they did the right thing by mistaking my comments about potluck and hindi movies as something of concern to NSA..’

  2. 100 · GallopingGranny said

    Comment 98!!!

    thanks. i try to be of help. i dedicate this honor to the hypocrites and reality deniers to whom i’ve offered a reality check.

  3. i am brown – and i would be worried too if i saw a bunch of mullahs and wives with hijabs sitting around me- even if they talked in perfectly good english. The point is this is no time to be PC – someone who is so devout to be wearing his/her traditional garb while he/she professes to be a professional in this country – is probably reason enough to be suspicious. Comon people – this is a airplane we are talking about … hello!!!

    I would trade an incident with this sort of minor irritation for these guys. If they are so upset, they should shave and their women need to don some clothes that dont hide their faces. I am sick of this BS..

  4. I agree with Kumar, it has nothing to do with being brown. I’m brown, but i would still be a little nervous if a guy with a a beard and his hijab wearing wife boarded a plane that I was on. Not all brown people are Muslim. Not all brown people wear hijabs, middle eastern clothing and grow beards. Hell, there are black people and even white people who do that. Islam is a universal religion, it has nothing to do with race.