x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Pilot asked for Emirati students' removal from plane

The students said they were subjected to between four and five hours of intrusive questioning before being allowed back on North Carolina flight.

WASHINGTON // US authorities have confirmed the eight Emirati students taken off a plane in North Carolina last week were removed after a request from the pilot.

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA), the US agency in charge of air security, said the students were removed on Thursday after the pilot of the US Airways flight to Washington DC alerted airport authorities.

In a brief statement on Monday, the TSA said the pilot "requested Charlotte airport police assist in removing individuals from the plane due to a perceived security concern".

The students said they were subjected to between four and five hours of intrusive questioning, then allowed back on to the plane.

The TSA would not comment as to why the students were removed, referring questions to the airline.

US Airways would only say that a "security concern" had sparked the removal. But a representative of the airline on Friday acknowledged the flight only eventually took off after a change of crew.

The UAE Embassy in Washington is still awaiting clarification over the incident.

On Friday, the embassy released a statement requesting "the TSA clarify its policy for UAE Embassy officials, so that similar incidents can be prevented in the future".

Discriminatory removals from flights are illegal in the US, even if they became common after the September 11 attacks, said Ben Wizner, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union.

"This is a legal issue that was resolved 40 years ago in the US in our civil rights movement," Mr Wizner said.

"We can't give frightened passengers or discriminatory crew veto power over our civil rights law."

US Airways settled two separate cases out of court in 2009 involving three Sikh musicians and six Muslim religious leaders.

The eight students have requested an apology from the airline, which has said its customer relations department has contacted them.

It is not clear what kind of compensation, if any, the students might hope to expect from any litigation.