Muslim Advocates and NAACP LDF Urge Airlines to Institute Anti-Bias Training

Washington, DC – Today, Muslim Advocates and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (“LDF”) sent a letter to major U.S. airlines calling for mandatory anti-bias training. As the organizations state, “paired with sufficient protocols governing staff conduct . . . , we believe your airlines can significantly reduce the number of racial and religious profiling incidents involving Muslim passengers and passengers of color on airlines. “

This request follows reports that a Muslim woman – Professor Anila Daulatzai – was recently forcibly removed from a Southwest flight “precisely because she is a woman, a person of color, and a Muslim,” according to a statement from her attorneys.  Unfortunately, this situation is just the latest in an alarmingly long list of discriminatory incidents by airlines against passengers based solely on their assumed race, ethnicity, or religion. The signatories cite several examples, including:

  • A couple flying back from their anniversary trip were removed from a U.S.-based carrier after a flight attendant claimed she felt “uncomfortable” that one of the passengers, who was wearing a headscarf, was on her phone and had said the word “Allah”;
  • An Italian passenger “with  dark, curly hair, olive skin and an exotic foreign accent” was removed from a domestic flight after another passenger found the math equation he was working on suspicious; and
  • An African-American woman was reseated from her purchased first-class seat to the back of the flight because supposedly no first-class seats were available. Meanwhile, the airline upgraded her travel partner, who is white and was seated in an economy seat.

Modeled on leading standards created by the Perception Institute – a national leader in research on implicit bias and its effects, the training, as outlined by Muslim Advocates and LDF, should:

  • Address implicit bias;
  • Acknowledge the roles and effects of “racial anxiety” on airlines staff and passengers;
  • Address “stereotype threat,” or the concern that an individual’s behavior will confirm a negative stereotype about the identity of the group to which the individual belongs;
  • Include assessments evaluating their effectiveness;
  • And be paired with protocols governing employee conduct in situations involving the potential for discrimination.

“Flying while Muslim is not a crime, and yet Professor Daulatzai’s wrongful ejection is just the latest in a clear and troubling trend,” said Juvaria Khan, Staff Attorney at Muslim Advocates. “Implicit bias training is vital to ensuring that all airline customers are treated with the dignity and respect they’re entitled to but none of these airlines have made public what, if any training, their employees receive.”

“The recent increase in discriminatory incidents on airlines is deeply troubling and raises serious concerns under federal law,” said Ajmel Quereshi, Senior Counsel at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc.  “Fortunately, training and protocols can reduce the frequency of these incidents.  Accordingly, we call on airlines to accept our offer to work with us to develop these materials.”  

Click here to read the letter.

Muslim Advocates is a national legal advocacy and educational organization that works on the frontlines of civil rights to guarantee freedom and justice for Americans of all faiths.

Founded in 1940, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) is the nation’s first civil and human rights law organization and has been completely separate from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) since 1957—although LDF was originally founded by the NAACP and shares its commitment to equal rights. LDF’s Thurgood Marshall Institute is a multi-disciplinary and collaborative hub within LDF that launches targeted campaigns and undertakes innovative research to shape the civil rights narrative. In media attributions, please refer to us as the NAACP Legal Defense Fund or LDF.