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UA student outraged at America West


Kristy Mangos
Arizona Daily Wildcat

Language analysis doctoral student Muhammad Al-Qudhaieen speaks yesterday in front of Old Main about being detained while traveling on an America West flight to Washington D.C. Al-Qudhaieen and a friend were questioned by the FBI after the flight crew thought they were acting suspicious.

By Audrey DeAnda
Arizona Daily Wildcat,
November 30, 1999
Talk about this story

A UA doctoral student and a fellow Saudi Arabian airline passenger are still trying to get over the shock of being detained on an America West airlines flight 11 days ago in what they claim was ethnic discrimination.

University of Arizona doctoral student Muhammad Al-Qudhaieen and Arizona State University doctoral student Hamdan Al-Shalawi have yet to determine if they will take any legal action.

Al-Shalawi said they have a lawyer but are still deciding what to do.

"Our reputation is contaminated and for what - for nothing, just because we're Middle Easterners," Al-Shalawi said.

Al-Qudhaieen and Al-Shalawi were flying from Phoenix to Washington, D.C. when the plane suddenly landed at an Ohio airport for an "airplane inspection."

"We did not know at all, that we are actually the ones that were targeted, we had no idea about what was going on," Al-Qudhaieen said during an interview yesterday. "They just stopped in Columbus and they said they were having a inspection of the plane."

Al-Qudhaieen said they were prepared to exit the plane with the rest of the passengers when police officers boarded the aircraft.

"They handcuffed both of us in front of all the passengers. It was such a humiliating experience," Al-Qudhaieen said.

Al-Qudhaieen said the two were taken to a police car and left for a couple of hours while airport authorities and police discussed the situation.

They were then taken to the police station at the airport and waited to be questioned by the FBI, Al-Qudhaieen said.

The FBI agents asked about the men's background and told them the aircraft's crew had thought they were acting suspicious and that was why the men were detained, Al-Qudhaieen said.

"It was just normal type of behavior that any passenger does on a flight," Al-Qudhaieen said.

Al-Qudhaieen said he asked a flight attendant what time the plane would arrive in Washington, D.C.

"There was a vacant seat next to me and I wanted my friend Hamdan to come over and sit next to me so I asked the flight attendant to talk to him," he added.

Al-Shalawi said the flight crew had plenty of time to ask the men to leave if they had thought the men were being suspicious.

"We asked all these questions before the plane took off - if we were acting suspicious they could have easily said we would like you to leave the plane."

The flight crew reported Al-Qudhaieen and Al-Shalawi were acting suspicious during the flight.

Al-Qudhaieen said during the flight, all he did was attempt to use the restroom in the front of the plane.

The pilot told police that Al-Qudhaieen jiggled the cockpit-door handle while he was in the front of the plane.

"I did not jiggle anything, I was not even close to it," Al-Qudhaieen said. "There was no reason for me to do anything like that, I had no intention except to go to the lavatory."

Al-Qudhaieen said he did not even get to use the front lavatory because a flight attendant told him that restroom was reserved for first-class passengers.

Al-Shalawi said two ladies in front of them had used the restroom in the front of the plane.

"We were singled out as a form of bigotry," Al-Shalawi said.

Al-Qudhaieen said America West apologized and offered to upgrade their seats from coach to first class on their return flight from Washington, D.C., to Tucson, but they did not accept the offer.

Al-Shalawi said the crew of America West might have been more cautious because of the recent crash of an EgyptAir flight, but it still doesn't justify the crew's actions.

"The crew on that plane need to see a psychiatrist - they are sick people," Al-Shalawi said. "To be a suspect or FBI target is so strange to me. It's a nightmare."

Al-Qudhaieen said the incident has hurt him psychologically.

"This was the first time (I have been discriminated against) and I hope it's the last," Al-Qudhaieen said.

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