Democrats press airline group on reports of racial profiling

Democrats press airline group on reports of racial profiling
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House members of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus are pressing the country’s top airline trade group for greater clarity on how it is working to mitigate racial and religious profiling by airlines.

In a letter to Airlines for America (A4A), which represents the nation’s major carriers with the exception of Delta, lawmakers raised concern about a series of recent incidents in which perceived or actual Muslim and Arab-American passengers were reportedly suspected of terrorism and removed from planes without concrete evidence.

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In one instance, a Muslim college student was pulled from a Southwest Airlines flight in California after making a telephone call in Arabic. In another, an Air Wisconsin flight was delayed when a professor’s math equations were mistaken for terrorist code.

The letter was signed by Reps. Judy Chu (D-Calif.), who chairs the caucus, and Mike Honda (D-Calif.).

“Airlines are entrusted with enormous responsibilities to keep our skies safe while respecting the rights of passengers,” the lawmakers wrote. “No airline passenger should be subject to discriminatory treatment on the basis of the passenger’s religion or ethnicity.”

The letter asks A4A to outline what steps it is taking to prevent future acts of discrimination by its members.

The lawmakers also want to know whether the group’s members require diversity and non-discrimination training; if the companies have procedures in place for passengers who have experienced discrimination; and whether they require airline employees to notify passengers about how they can file a complaint.

“Flying while Muslim is not a crime and our airlines industry should not act as though it is,” Chu said in a separate statement. “I look forward to hearing back and working with Airlines for America to understand what procedures are in place to evaluate current threats and to ensure that no passenger is the unfair target of racial or religious profiling.”

An A4A spokesperson responded that airline employees rely on their extensive customer service training, including both diversity and non-discrimination training, to ensure a safe and welcoming travel experience.

“Our members take these matters very seriously and do not tolerate discrimination in any form,” the spokesperson said.

This story was updated at 9:45 a.m.