AirTran Apology for ejecting Muslim passengers

We can pretty much depend on our nation’s airlines to provide us with at least one good apology-worthy incident each month. Granted, we’ll never hear an apology for most of the things that airlines should apologize for — like cramped seats, ridiculous extra fees, late flights, canceled flights, etc. Personally, I always cheer when an airline goes bankrupt, simply because most of them have ticked me off at one time or another. Although bankruptcy doesn’t seem to kill them. They just rise up from the grave and go right back to overcharging, frustrating and inconveniencing their passengers. Or, as in the case of AirTran this week, throwing their passengers off the plane.

What happened? From the AP story, via the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

Washington — AirTran Airways apologized Friday to nine Muslims kicked
off a New Year’s Day flight to Florida after other passengers reported
hearing a suspicious remark about airplane security. One of the
passengers said the confusion started at Reagan National Airport in
Washington, D.C., when he talked about the safest place to sit on an
airplane.

Yeah, don’t talk about that.

… Irfan said when he boarded the flight Thursday, he mentioned
something to his wife and sister-in-law about having to sit in the
back. His sister-in-law replied that she believed the back of the
airplane was the safest, but Irfan believed it was better to be by the
wings.

“She said, ‘Yes, I guess it makes sense not to be close to the
engine in case something happens,” Irfan recalled Friday. “It was a
very benign conversation.”

Or so he would have us believe, because …

Shortly after taking their seats, members of the group was
approached by federal air marshals and taken off the plane, Irfan said.
They stood in the jet bridge connected to the airport and answered
questions while other passengers exited and glared at them.

No doubt. Although maybe they should have been glaring at the jackass who dropped a dime on this group and caused everyone to miss their flight.

Irfan said he thought he and the others were profiled because of
their appearance. The men had beards and the women wore headscarves,
traditional Muslim attire.

That very well might have had something to do with it.   Now for the apology, in the form of a statement on AirTran’s website:

AirTran Airways Offers Apology to Customers on Flight 175 Yesterday

ORLANDO, Fla., Jan. 2 /PRNewswire-FirstCall/ — AirTran Airways, a subsidiary of AirTran Holdings, Inc. (NYSE: AAI), today issued the following statement regarding AirTran flight 175 originating at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport on January 1, 2009.

Gotta love that personal touch. This is a run-of-the-mill routine corporate apology. Impersonal corporate third person voice. Yeah, yeah, we insulted an inconvenienced you, we’re sorry, whatever.

Our goal at AirTran Airways is to offer a safe, pleasant and positive travel experience for all customers every day on every flight. We sincerely regret that the passengers on flight 175 did not have a positive travel experience on January 1, 2009.

See? So heartwarming and deeply felt.

Security is a shared responsibility and this incident highlights the multiple layers of security that are in place in today’s aviation environment. While ultimately this issue proved to be a misunderstanding, the steps taken were necessary.

It also highlights the multiple layers of numbskullery and inane nonsense that pass for airline security, but that is another whole topic.

Alert passengers reported to the flight crew what they believed were inappropriate comments allegedly made by one of the passengers onboard, and the flight crew notified the federal air marshals that were assigned to the flight.

Am I the only one troubled by the notion that my right to fly is subject to the discretion of what  “alert passengers” nearby think is an inappropriate comment?

The federal air marshals on board contacted local and federal law enforcement officials who came to the gate and escorted the individuals in question off the aircraft to ensure they posed no threat to the flight. After deplaning the remaining passengers and performing a sweep of the aircraft and rescreening all passengers, crew, checked and carry-on baggage, the flight departed two hours late without the nine passengers who were detained for questioning.

See what I mean? Some ” alert” dope in the next row thinks you look funny and you get detained and questioned by federal officials.

We regret that the issue escalated to the heightened security level it did on New Year’s Day, but we trust everyone understands that the security and the safety of our passengers is paramount and cannot be compromised.

Translation: It wasn’t really our fault. We had no choice. National security!

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. Nobody on Flight 175 reached their destination on time on New Year’s Day, and we regret it.

Hey, what can you do? Crazy times we live in. Just better hope the guy sitting next to you doesn’t suddenly accuse you of saying something suspicious. But if he does,and you get hauled off by the Feds, we will regret you not reaching your destination.

The airline has refunded the air fares of the nine passengers detained for questioning, has agreed to reimburse the passengers for expenses incurred by taking another airline and has also offered to transport the passengers home to Washington, DC, free of charge.

We’ll also refund your ticket … and invite you to fly with us again, free of charge! Feel better yet?

Sadly, this is a run-of-the-mill and not very sincere apology because these kinds of incidents happen with such frequency that they have become commonplace. Bad weather, mechanical difficulty, missing crew, wild accusations of paranoid passengers … there are all routine causes of delay that generate pro forma apologies from airlines.

Just for fun, check out AirTran’s Mission Statement.