The case of an extended family of nine being removed from an AirTran flight yesterday is not looking very good.
“It just so happened these people were of Muslim faith and appearance,” AirTran spokesman Tad Hutcheson told The Washington Post. That “just so happened” part isn’t ringing quite true because these things don’t ever seem to “just so happen” to people who don’t appear to be Muslim.
Two members of the family, all but one of whom are American citizens by birth, were talking before the plane took off from Reagan National in Washington about safety — specifically about the safest place to sit on a plane, according to one report. While it’s not exactly clear what words were used, it does seem like the kind of conversation nervous fliers have all the time.
At least one other passenger overheard the conversation, construed it as threatening and reported it to the crew. Air marshals, airport police, TSA and FBI were all involved before it was over, passengers were rescreened and the whole family, including three children, was denied permission to reboard.
The AirTran spokesman wants it both ways on this one. He told The Post the incident amounted to a misunderstanding, but said:
“At the end of the day, people got on and made comments they shouldn’t have made on the airplane, and other people heard them [and] misconstrued them.”
So which was it? They said things they “shouldn’t have?” Or they were misunderstood? Who determines what we “should” say? Is that different for people who look Muslim? Are we responsible for the way someone might misinterpret our innocent words?
Put another way, is it illegal to shout “liar” in a crowded theater?
The main argument I’m reading in favor of the airline and the authorities on this one is that “you can’t be too safe.” But I think you can, and I wonder, if your vacationing family got hauled off a plane because of an innocent conversation, would you think so, too?