Posted by Omar Baddar on October 11, 2018 in Blog

Victory on Airline Discrimination

FAA Law Includes New Requirement on Nondiscrimination Training

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Reauthorization Act of 2018 was signed into law on Friday, October 5, 2018. The bill includes section 407, titled “Training policies regarding racial, ethnic, and religious nondiscrimination,” which outlines requirements for improving air carriers’ nondiscrimination policies and practices. The Arab American Institute (AAI), which has sought such improvements and protections for years, welcomes the passage of this provision of the legislation as an important step towards ending discrimination by airlines and enhancing civil rights protections for all.

“Airline passenger profiling and discrimination, including the removal of passengers from airplanes, is happening with disturbing frequency and with little consequence to air carriers,” stated AAI Executive Director Maya Berry. “We saw cases of people profiled and targeted after they had cleared airport security simply because they were Arab or Muslim, or they were perceived to be by their fellow passengers or airline employees. When we complained, we learned these cases of blatant discrimination have been handled so poorly that there is more data available on mishandled luggage than there is on the number of people removed from flights because of profiling tied to alleged ‘security’ issues. This is simply unacceptable,” added Berry.  

Arab Americans have faced countless episodes of profiling while simply exercising their right to travel. In 2006, an Arab American was denied the right to board a JetBlue flight until he changed his shirt, which had Arabic on it. In 2011, another was removed in handcuffs from a Frontier flight after flight attendants alerted the pilot that she and two men were “possibly of Arab descent.” In 2016, an Iraqi student was removed from a Southwest flight for simply speaking Arabic. Later that same year, an Italian economist was removed from an American Airlines flight for allegedly reading Arabic on his computer, though in reality it was calculus.

These incidents led AAI to seek a remedy to address the problem. Working with the office of Senator Corey Booker of New Jersey, an amendment was introduced in 2016 which served as the basis for what passed last week.   

Section 407 of the new law specifically requires the Comptroller General to report to Congress within the next six months on “each air carrier’s training policy for its employees and contractors regarding racial, ethnic, and religious nondiscrimination.” The section also requires the Secretary of Transportation to “develop and disseminate to air carriers best practices necessary to improve” these nondiscrimination trainings, and specifically based on consultations with “passengers of diverse racial, ethnic, and religious backgrounds [and] national organizations that represent impacted communities.”

“These cases require strong, decisive action by our country’s air carriers and the FAA. While more must be done to ensure accountability for instances of discrimination by airlines, we are grateful for Senator Booker’s leadership and the passage of his amendment is an important first step toward ending the discriminatory treatment our communities face,” added Berry.

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