A prominent Muslim advocate and former Congressional candidate was taken off a flight at Newark Airport Saturday morning and briefly arrested after arguing with another passenger, according to law enforcement and civil rights activists.
Amani Al-Khatahtbeh, the founder of Muslimgirl.com who ran this year in the Democratic primary for a Congressional seat in central New Jersey, was waiting to go through security for a flight bound from Newark to Charlotte, North Carolina when she confronted another passenger who was skipping her in line, according to her Twitter account.
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.”
When I said he could wait like everyone else, he started going off about how he’s “pre check” and “first class” 1/3
— AMANI (@AMANI2020) November 14, 2020
For reasons that remain unclear, the American Airlines flight staff then asked her to be escorted off the flight after she boarded, and she told them the other passenger — an unidentified man — should also be taken off the flight, according to Selaedin Maksut, executive director of the New Jersey chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
“I am not moving unless he is also moving,” she’s heard saying to Port Authority officers in a video posted online by another passenger. “Otherwise why are you taking his word over mine? Because he is in first class? If you are kicking me off you have to kick both of us.”
The entire flight disembarked and Amani was taken off the flight and arrested, Maksut said.
Maksut said he was working on clarifying the details of the incident Saturday, but said American Airlines staff overreacted by involving the Port Authority police.
“What we understand is that allegedly he had complained about her presence on the plane. And that was enough of a reason for them to call for her to be escorted off the plane. She refused to be escorted off a plane without him also being escorted off the plane,” Maksut 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,” said Lindsay Kryzak, director of corporate communications for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
An American Airlines spokesperson, Whitney Zastrow, said in an email statement the police were called because “she failed to comply with crew member instructions and law enforcement was requested.”
The fate of the other passenger was not immediately clear. The Daily News reported he was not arrested, “but it was not immediately clear if he was allowed back on the flight. The rest of the passengers were allowed back on…the flight, which left around 11 a.m.”
Maksut said Al-Khatahtbeh was charged with interference of transportation and trespassing. The PAPD could not confirm the details of the charges against her.
“But it’s not surprising to hear you know what’s happening considering American Airlines history of mistreating Muslim travelers, and people of color,” Maksut said. In a press release, CAIR highlighted three other instances of Muslim fliers in the past several years reporting being profiled by American Airlines staff.
American Airlines’s representative Zastrow said, “Initial witness accounts indicate the conflict began during TSA screening. Both PreCheck and non-PreCheck screening were consolidated into one open lane. Our understanding is that Ms. Al-Khatahtbeh believed the other passenger, who is enrolled in PreCheck, was getting favorable treatment because he was allowed to proceed through security while she was removing her shoes. This led to a verbal altercation that continued through the terminal and on the plane where Ms. Al-Khatahtbeh confronted the passenger and began filming him before taking her seat.”
Zastrow added, “We take this issue seriously and our team is working as fast as possible to understand what occurred. We have reached out to CAIR NJ to brief them on our investigation.”
By Saturday evening, Amani was released from custody and home with her family, Maksut said.
The last 6 hours of my life have been draining & traumatizing.
Today I got arrested for the first time because a man that insisted he was “first class” felt entitled to blow past me at TSA security, then have me removed from our @AmericanAir flight bc he “felt uncomfortable.”
— AMANI (@AMANI2020) November 14, 2020