WASHINGTON // A group of Emirati students are demanding an apology from a US airline after they were removed from a plane at an airport in Charlotte, North Carolina.
The UAE Embassy in Washington is also seeking clarification over the incident from the Transport Security Administration (TSA), the agency in charge of airport security.
The eight Emirati students, travelling to a conference in Washington DC, were taken off US Airways flight 1768 at Charlotte-Douglas International Airport on Thursday afternoon after a "security concern", an airline spokeswoman said.
The students were asked to leave the plane "out of an abundance of caution" and were "re-screened", the spokeswoman said on Friday. They were allowed to reboard after a five-hour delay.
But the students were not happy.
"I think [another passenger] made a complaint," said Turki Al Neyadi, a first-year engineering student at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Florida. "They just took us off the plane with no evidence of anything."
Mr Al Neyadi said the alert was raised because the group "looked Arab", but this should not warrant such action or the hours of questioning.
"They asked us whether we had any military experience, how many sisters we had, all kinds of questions," he said. "All this and no evidence that we had done anything, just someone's feeling."
Mr Al Neyadi said once they were returned to the plane the pilot refused to fly, leading to a change of crew and a further delay.
US Airways would only say that the change of staff had been brought in because of "crew concerns".
The UAE Embassy released a statement Friday saying the situation was "regrettable" and that they were seeking clarification from US authorities.
"All of the students travelling on the flight to Washington had valid US visas and were eligible to travel in the US," the statement read.
"To that end, the UAE Embassy is eager to receive information from the TSA on the specific circumstances that led to the situation in Charlotte.
"Furthermore, we request that the TSA clarify its policy for UAE Embassy officials so similar incidents can be prevented in the future."
Racial profiling at airports is illegal in the US, but rights groups including the American Civil Liberties Union say it has been a growing practice since the September 11 attacks in 2001.
Some American politicians, especially on the right, want to formalise the practice and grant the TSA powers to focus on certain ethnicities for increased security checks.
At a recent CNN presidential candidate debate, three Republican hopefuls suggested they supported racial airport screening of some kind, with Rick Santorum, a former senator from Pennsylvania, the most specific.
"Obviously, Muslims would be someone you'd look at, absolutely," Mr Santorum said.
US Airways has been involved in a number of other cases where passengers have said they were unfairly singled out because of their nationality.
In 2009, three visiting Sikh musicians received an apology and an undisclosed amount in compensation from the airline.
The three had been removed from a plane in Sacramento in 2008, apparently also after complaints from fellow passengers.
The same year, the airline settled a federal case with six Muslim leaders who said they had also been removed from a plane because of their appearance.
The airline spokeswoman said it was too early to discuss what kind of compensation might be made to the eight Emirati students.
"We've reached out to our customer relations department and they will contact the students in question," she said.