Woman’s gripe over men speaking Arabic grounded plane bound to Chicago
SAN DIEGO – A woman who complained that some fellow passengers spoke Arabic and “had odd behavior” prevented a Chicago-bound American Airlines flight from departing San Diego, police said Wednesday.
Flight 590, scheduled to depart at 11 p.m. Tuesday, left its gate about 11:15 but returned to the boarding area after the woman, who was traveling with at least one child, indicated she wanted to get off the airplane. The flight then was unable to make Lindbergh Field’s 11:30 p.m. curfew for departures, according to officials at the San Diego Harbor Police.
|Dave (Taher) Alwatan was on the flight with five other Iraqis|
The flight, carrying 126 passengers, was rescheduled for midmorning Wednesday and arrived in Chicago in the afternoon, an American Airlines spokesman said.
Police officials said it is unusual for planes to return to the gate. They told reporters that it happens rarely for medical, mechanical problems or a disturbance.
The woman first complained to the flight crew that six men were possibly speaking Arabic in the boarding area. The woman added that they “had odd behavior.” The crew decided to return to the boarding area because the woman indicated she wanted off the plane.
The American Airlines spokesman indicated the plane returned to its gates because of a dispute between passengers.
One of the targeted passengers, Dave (Taher) Alwatan, is an Iraqi and a U.S. citizen who was hired by the U.S. as part of a training mission at Camp Pendleton.
Mr. Alwatan eventually arrived in Dearborn where he lives with his wife and their two children.
The Arab American News met Mr. Alwatan at his upper flat in the east side of the city of Dearborn where he just moved and is still getting situated. Standing in his living room he displayed to reporters and cameras a picture of President Bush hugging him in the middle of an Iraqi crowed during one of Mr. Bush’s visits to Michigan. He told reporters that “he and the other five Iraqi passengers were hired by the U.S. government to help defend the country. We can prove ourselves. We are good people, not a bad people”. “How can we be bad if we are helping our people here — the American people?” Looking at reporters he asked “Why are we getting treated like that?”
The Associated Press reported Defense Training Systems had hired the six men to train U.S. Marines at Camp Pendleton in California.
Mr. Alwatan was joined by his attorney Lawerence T. Garcia a partner at the law offices of Allen Brothers.
Mr. Imad Hamad, regional director of the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) criticized the way the airline handled the incident. “This is not the first time where Arabs and Muslims are deplaned or thrown out of restaurants, buses or their place of work just because of the way they look or speak. If this is not discrimination then would some one explain to me what it is?”
Mr. Hamad said that his organization will demand a full investigation of this matter.
Ahmed Rehab, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Chicago, was upset about the airline’s actions. “It is one thing to flag suspicious behavior, but to flag a global language? We are deplaning people for who they are, not what they do,” Rehab said.