Sun, 02 Sep 2007

Flight Canceled After Passengers Aboard Plane Spoke Arabic

Shirt reads "I am not a terrorist" in Arabic
Perhaps you've heard the news of the flight in San Diego that was canceled because several passengers were speaking Arabic on the flight.

Or more likely, you didn't, because checking Google news, there's only 11 news articles covering the topic which occurred on Thursday.

I don't know what's more disturbing, really. That we've reached a point of mass hysteria where a woman doesn't feel safe on a plane because she's hearing a foreign language, or that the media can't tell its head from its ass.

Of the news reports that Google has listed, only three seem to tell the whole story. While the airline would like to place all of the blame at the feet of this woman, the reality appears to be a bit more complex.

The best media article on the topic appears to be this one which presents the information in the most uncontradictory way. Other reports make it sound like the lady was on the plane when it turned back to the gate, but she apparently disembarked before the plane began to taxi.

Consider these two reports:
Irene McCormack, a spokeswoman for the San Diego Unified Port District said the woman expressed concerns to the flight crew before boarding that six men were speaking a foreign language and exhibiting “strange behaviour”.

The passenger continued telling the crew her concerns, within earshot of the men, after the jet taxied from the gate, Ms McCormack said yesterday.
A woman who complained that some fellow passengers spoke Arabic and "had odd behavior" prevented a Chicago-bound American Airlines flight from departing San Diego, police said Wednesday.
The woman first complained to the flight crew that four to seven men were possibly speaking Arabic in the boarding area. The woman added that they "had odd behavior." The crew decided to return to the boarding area because the woman indicated she wanted off the plane.
versus this one:
...according to Robbins, “The plane never left the terminal with me in it.” She said she was on the jet for less than five minutes, that the flight attendants had not yet given their safety talk when she got off.

As proof, she noted her hotel reservations for that night were booked at 11:16 p.m., just two minutes after the airline had said the plane had left the gate.
Robbins said she was seated in the last row of the plane before the doors closed when one of the group of men left his seat and went to the restroom. She said she heard him “clunking around” inside.
she told the flight attendant she had to get off the plane. She said the attendant remarked that the men were strange.

She gathered up her sons and their things and left the plane. She said she never even heard any of the men speaking while they were on the plane, though she had chatted with one of them in the terminal.

About 20 minutes later, while she was at the ticket counter making hotel arrangements, an airline official came up to the counter and said the plane was returning to the gate, Robbins said. She said the official was angry and complained that the airline would now have to find hotels for everyone, Robbins said.

She left the airport before the rest of flight 590's passengers disembarked.
So it appears that while the doors had been closed, the plane had not begun to taxi, and she was let off the plane. The decision not to fly out may have been precipitated by her hysteria, but you can't quite blame her for the airlines/air crew's decision not to fly.

Khan Klatt

Khan Klatt's photo