AirTran Proves You CAN Be Too Safe

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?


7 thoughts on “AirTran Proves You CAN Be Too Safe

  1. marta

    Everytime I fly, I say to my husband something about the safety of the plane. I am distinctly American looking (whatever that means) so all the passengers who overhear me,, appear not to be threatened. I guess if I were wearing a scarf, I’d be booted off the plane. Yeah, it’s profiling and we’re not safer for it.

  2. Joe F. Beaufort, SC

    Oh boo hoo hoo.
    Profiling catches terrorists. Ask the Israelis and El Al.
    I for one am tired of the ‘average’ Muslim getting a pass for the insane criminal behavior of islamic terrorists. Their religion fosters hatred of non-muslims, is intolerant of other religions, actively permits and encourages stoning of men and women for homosexuality and other sins, and they sit idly by and wonder why other people think that barbarism belongs in the 7th Century.
    The ‘average’ muslim needs to stop tolerating the crazies, stop tolerating the imams who preach hate and intolerance, as the result of the ‘civilized’ world needs to show these folks absolutely zero tolerance for stupid remarks made on airplanes.
    I APPLAUD Air Tran for kicking them off and refunding their money. Good for Airtran. Maybe next time they hear some local Imam preaching intolerance and hate they’ll stand up for whats right for a change.

  3. Bill

    Unfortunately, this is a result of fear, and until people are less fearful, incidents such as this will continue. It doesn’t take much to get thrown off a plane these days. Southwest threw off a college girl traveling with her mother, just for wearing a jean mini-skirt. Another family was thrown off because their toddler’s constant talking. So basically anything that disrupts the other passengers gets you kicked.
    Besides, the airplane staff can’t tell if a paranoid passenger forgot his meds, or if there is a real situation that needs to be bumped up the chain. So if you notice a nervous person, try to reassure them rather than have them spook the plane. Friendly smiles do wonders.

  4. 2rocker

    At the end of the day, we are just talking about somebody’s vacation being ruined here. Big deal. The Muslim family’s complaint sounds like spoiled Americans who cry foul when they are not served like kings. Thankfully most other Americans do not live this way and they understand there is price to people’s liberty and safety, and a little inconvenience and even humiliation is worth the price. Look, at the end of the day we don’t know the whole story: the Islamic family say they didn’t talk about bombs and other issues, but there certainly were people who were concerned, and the airport did the right thing by pursuing the safest method possible.

  5. Jeanne Leblanc

    I don’t understand your reasoning, Joe, though I’ve run across it before. I see two substantial flaws in your argument.
    The first is to believe that this family of American Muslims is somehow complicit in the 9/11 attacks. If members of any religion are automatically responsible for the actions of all other members, we’re probably all in some degree of trouble. You ascribe to this family the most extreme and distorted beliefs of radical Islam with no evidence that these particular individuals hold those views. And somehow you don’t seem to believe that these Americans, your fellow citizens, are also fellow victims of the 9/11 attacks. It certainly might be argued that they have suffered additionally from the kind of intolerance you display here.
    Your second error is to suggest that bigotry is an effective weapon against terrorism. In fact, it clouds judgment. I’m not arguing against profiling — by age, nationality and, yes, even appearance — but it is only effective when done intelligently, judiciously and respectfully. In the hands of people who want to punish and harass every individual they perceive as an enemy, we end up with bad results. And it’s interesting that you suggest this is what El Al does, because that’s not quite right.
    El Al’s procedure for determining who is high-risk is controversial, and Muslims are subjected to more intense scrutiny. But that’s also true in the United States. (Do you think it a coincidence that there were two air marshals aboard the AirTran flight carrying nine passengers with Arabic names?) But El Al does not shake down or exclude all passengers who look Muslim. El Al is effective because its screeners gather detailed information about each passenger, interview them and then logically and sensibly assess that information. We could learn from that model, but we’d have to adapt it to the real threats the United States faces, not the threat Israel faces. You need to factor in people who might be named Timothy McVeigh or Richard Reid as well as Mohammed or Hassan.
    At the end of the day, as the phrase goes, the problem here is not just that a family was treated unfairly and disrespectfully, which is bad. It’s that we don’t seem to want to learn from the experience, which amounted to a waste of time and resources that diminished our security instead of improving it.

  6. JD

    Aviation is a much different place since 9/11, and a much different place to work. I don’t care who you are, I’ve removed white passengers for the exact same thing. Its everyone responsibility these days to be cognizant of what’s going on, because you never know who will try something next. The airline acted in complete compliance with the TSA and FAA (government agencies) So if you have a problem with the way things went down talk to your government not AirTran Airways. Everyone who says the airline is in the wrong are the same idiots who would complain that they and the TSA,FAA dropped the ball if something did happen. They deserve a refund, but NO apology, next time watch you mouth.

  7. Craig

    If there was a plot here that had been foiled, all of these people would be heroes. But since there apparently wasn’t one, AirTran and its passengers are to be condemned? This is reminiscent of the flying imams incident in Minneapolis in 2007. That was clearly a stunt designed to get money for CAIR and silence anyone who gets suspicious of Muslims on a plane. This AirTran incident could easily have been a test or a stunt. We cannot allow our post-9/11 vigilance to be eroded.


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