Last updated: 03:42 PM ET, Thu November 19 2015

Spirit Under Fire From Muslim Group

Airlines & Airports | Rich Thomaselli | November 19, 2015

Spirit Under Fire From Muslim Group

A Muslim advocacy group  is demanding an apology from Spirit Airlines following an incident earlier this week in which four people were removed from a flight because one of them was watching the news.

Instead of apologizing, Spirit is defending its actions.

The saga began Tuesday when Spirit Airlines Flight 969 was scheduled to leave Baltimore-Washington International Airport when "a passenger alerted a flight attendant of a passenger engaged in suspicious activity on board," airline spokesman Stephen Schuler said.

Police say they were told the passenger was watching a news report on a cellular device at the time, and several other passengers told NBC Chicago and the Chicago Tribune that the passenger in question and three traveling companions looked of “Middle East descent.”

The plane, which was taxiing at the time, returned to the gate in a decision made by the captain. How the interpretation of watching a news report led to their removal from the flight before it departed for Chicago is open to conjecture, especially considering the four were later released by Maryland Transportation Authority Police, who found no wrongdoing.

Spirit Airlines said it did nothing wrong.

“We do not tolerate discrimination or remove passengers because of where they are from, their ethnicity, or their religion,” the airline said in a statement. “The passenger in question was removed from the flight because of his behavior, which was breaking airline and FAA rules during the taxiing process, and refusing to cooperate with crew instructions. Law enforcement was called and they chose to remove others who were traveling with the passenger who was breaking the rules.”

Spirit did not say what rules were broken.

The Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) released a statement calling on Spirit to apologize.

"Watching news on your smartphone has never qualified as a security threat or as suspicious behavior and could have been easily vetted as such with minimal inquiry by the flight crew. That this was escalated into an ordeal seems to be exclusively due to the passenger's perceived ethnicity," CAIR said in a statement.

Sgt. Jonathan Green, a spokesman for the Maryland Transportation Authority, said no criminal activity or violations of any kind were found to have been committed and the four were released, although they missed their flight to Chicago.

Green told the Chicago Tribune he does not blame the captain for making the decision to return to the gate.

 “I’m not going to discredit the captain," Green said. "He had the information there at the time and he made a decision based on the information. Our job is to respond to his request to remove the four individuals, and we took them to the station, interviewed all four of them, and we felt there was no indication of any criminal activity or violations.”


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