Mr. Irfan turned to his wife, Sobia Ijaz, as they boarded AirTran Flight 175 at Reagan National Airport near Washington Thursday afternoon, and wondered aloud where the safest place to sit on the airplane would be — the front? The rear? Over the wing?
But passengers sitting behind them evidently overheard the remark, saw Mr. Irfan’s beard and his wife’s head scarf, and grew concerned. Mr. Irfan and his wife, along with six members of their extended family, are Muslims, and were on their way to a religious conference in Orlando when they boarded the flight.
The worried passengers contacted flight attendants, who contacted Transportation Security Administration officials, and soon, Mr. Irfan and his wife were off the plane and being questioned in the jetway. The six remaining family members in the traveling party were taken off the plane as well, along with a family friend who happened to be on the same flight and who happens to be a lawyer for the Library of Congress.
Next, the nine Muslim passengers — all but one are United States-born American citizens — were taken to a quarantine area in the passenger lounge where they were questioned by F.B.I. agents. Mr. Irfan’s three small nephews were denied access to food in the family’s carry-on luggage.
Before long, Mr. Irfan told The Lede in an interview Friday morning, the F.B.I. concluded that the incident was obviously just a misunderstanding, and told AirTran officials that the family was cleared to travel. But he said AirTran still refused to rebook them, offering only to refund their tickets. The F.B.I. agents helped the family get on a later USAirways flight to Orlando, but those seats cost them twice as much.
Happy new year, same as the old year.