AirTran Apologizes To Muslims Kept From Plane

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AirTran Airways has apologized to nine people (including three children, ages 7, 4, and 2, and two women) who were directed to stay off of their flight before departure Thursday afternoon from Reagan National bound for Orlando, after they were overheard discussing where on the aircraft would be the safest place to sit. That conversation apparently led to security concerns among other passengers who may have been influenced by the group's apparent South Asian descent and traditionally Muslim appearance -- the men wore beards and the women wore headscarves. An AirTran spokesman defended the company's handling of the incident, which included deplaning all 104 passengers for re-screening, taking a second look at their luggage and conducting a security sweep of the aircraft, before departing without the aforementioned nine. The decision to expel the group was ultimately made by the flight's captain, who was aware that passenger complaints had reached two federal air marshals aboard the flight, and that those two individuals had in turn reported the situation to airport police. As one of those ejected from a flight he initially paid for, Abdur Razack Aziz told the Washington Post, "Nothing came out of it. It was paranoid people. It was very sad."

In the end, the flight departed two hours late and the discharged passengers were issued full refunds by AirTran and were offered carriage on the airline at any future date. They were also offered free flights from Orlando back to Washington. After their expulsion, however, the group found their way to their destination with seats purchased on USAirways. A spokesman for the TSA defended the pilot's actions. "Someone heard something that was inappropriate, and then the airline decided to act on it. We certainly support [the pilot's] call to do that."