(Updates with group filing complaint)
WASHINGTON Jan 2 A Muslim family that was
ordered off an AirTran Airways flight on New Year's Day
received an apology and refund on Friday from the airline,
which said its decision to bar the passengers was necessary.
Atif Irfan said in an interview with CNN that federal
authorities removed him, seven family members and a friend from
the flight after passengers overheard members of the group
talking about the safest place to sit on the plane. He said
they were being careful to avoid any "buzzwords" like "bomb"
that would trigger a security alert.
The group was flying out of Reagan Washington National
Airport and was headed for a religious retreat in Florida when
other passengers apparently overheard the conversation and
reported it to authorities.
AirTran, a subsidiary of AirTran Holdings Inc. AAI.N,
issued a statement apologizing to the nine and the other
passengers who were inconvenienced by the incident. It said the
airfare of the nine was refunded and other passengers would be
reimbursed for expenses incurred by taking other flights.
"We apologize to all of the passengers -- to the nine who
had to undergo extensive interviews from the authorities, and
to the 95 who ultimately made the flight," the discount airline
said in a statement.
"While ultimately this issue proved to be a
misunderstanding, the steps taken were necessary," it said.
An earlier AirTran statement said the airline complied with
all Transportation Security Administration and Homeland
Security directives and had no discretion in the case.
All 104 passengers aboard the flight were taken off and
rescreened and their baggage was checked again, AirTran said.
Of the nine passengers in the group, six asked to be rebooked
to Florida, AirTran said.
The Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations
said it filed a complaint on Friday with the U.S. Department of
Transportation. The Islamic civil rights group said in a statement
it was working with the Muslim passengers and the airline to
address the civil liberties issues related to the incident.
"We believe this disturbing incident would never have
occurred had the Muslim passengers removed from the plane not
been perceived by other travelers and airline personnel as
members of the Islamic faith," the group said in its
Kashif Irfan, Atif's brother, told The Washington Post he
thought the group, all but one of them U.S.-born citizens, were
profiled because of their appearance. He said five of the six
adults in the group are of South Asian descent, and all six are
traditionally Muslim in appearance, with the men wearing beards
and the women in headscarves.
Kashif Irfan, 34, is an anesthesiologist, and his brother
Atif, 29, is a lawyer, the Post reported. Both live in
Atif Irfan told CNN U.S. law enforcement officials treated
the group with kindness but the family is upset that the
airline did not allow the group to reboard the plane or rebook
a flight after they had been cleared of any wrongdoing.
The Post reported the group booked a flight on US Airways
LCC.N after the incident.
(Reporting by Donna Smith; Editing by Eric Beech)