ADC works with Congressman Honda to protect Arab-Americans from discrimination on commercial airlines

Yolanda and Congressman Mike Honda

Photo: Congressman Mike Honda and ADC Staff Attorney Yolanda Rondon

Washington, DC | | May 24th, 2016 – The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) has been diligently meeting with members of Congress and advocating for new consumer protection legislation to address the continuing incidents of commercial airlines arbitrarily removing passengers, particularly those who are perceived to look, speak, or write Arabic.

Today we are beginning to see our advocacy efforts pay off, as Congressman Mike Honda (D-CA) told ADC that he plans to introduce an amendment in support of consumer protection to the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development appropriations bill (T-HUD Bill). ADC worked closely with Rep. Honda’s office in drafting the Consumer Protection amendment, which will require airlines to report to the U.S. Department of Transportation the number of passengers removed off planes and the reason for their removal.The amendment will be considered by the House Appropriations Committee today. ADC commends the Congressman for his vigorous advocacy for fairness and transparency, and will continue to work closely with Congressman Honda to address this issue.

ADC has documented numerous reports of arbitrary airline removals by Allegiant, Spirit, Delta, American Airlines, Southwest, and United Airlines. In May, Economics Professor Guido Menzio was removed off an American Airlines operated flight because the passenger sitting next to him thought that the Algebra calculations he was scribbling were Arabic, and thus were a “suspicious” foreign language. In May, United Airlines made an emergency landing to remove a mother and her child with autism off the plane citing “behavior issues.” In April, Southwest Airlines removed UC Berkley student off a plane for speaking Arabic. In March, JetBlue Airlines removed two Muslim women off a flight in Boston because a crewmember stated the women were staring at her and she felt uncomfortable. Additionally, in November 2015, two Arab-Americans were temporarily denied boarding on a Southwest flight because other passengers heard them speaking Arabic and complained.

Airlines, as common carriers, should not be allowed to arbitrarily remove passengers off planes just because they speak Arabic, look Arabic, or write something that appears to be Arabic to another passenger. Currently, under the Airline Deregulation Act, airlines have broad discretion to remove passengers who they deem “inimical to safety”, but are prohibited from removing passengers for discriminatory or arbitrary reasons.  However, the burden is placed upon the removed passenger to file a complaint and prove that the airline’s removal decision was arbitrary and capricious.  This is an unfair burden, as the airlines are in a much better position to bear the burden of proof that their decision was reasonable under the circumstances. Additionally, given that consumers pay airlines to provide a service, the least airlines can do is make sure their passengers are treated fairly and see if there are areas for improvement in removal procedures. This is exactly what Congressman Honda’s amendment will do.

Take Action:

  1. Call House Appropriations Committee at (202) 225-2771 and Request Support for the Honda Amendment Requiring Airlines to Report removal of Passengers to the U.S. Department of Transportation
  2. Tweet your support @ADCTweets #ConsumerProtection #T-HUD
Please report any and all instances of discrimination on commercial airlines to ADC Legal at or 202.244.2990 so that we can work to protect the right to travel. 
Scroll to Top