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November 20, 2015

Overheard speaking Arabic, Philly pizza shop owner barred from boarding Chicago flight

Palestinian immigrant says he and his friend were profiled before flight

A Philadelphia pizza shop owner says he was profiled Wednesday night as he and a friend prepared to board a flight back from Chicago at Midway International Airport.

Maher Kahlil, a Palestinian immigrant and owner of Pizza Point in North Philadelphia, says he was having a conversation with a friend in Arabic prior to boarding the Southwest Airlines flight. When he approached the gate, he said flight personnel turned them away because another passenger felt uncomfortable after overhearing the exchange, the Associated Press reports.

“We were just chatting, like everybody else,” Khalil said on Friday. “I’m like: ‘Are you kidding me? Are you serious? Is this a prank or something?’”

Disturbed by the situation, Kahlil called police for assistance. When they arrived, however, other passengers on the flight assumed they were there to investigate a possible terrorist threat.

“We came to America to have a better life,” Khalil explained on Friday. “Everybody in America is from different countries. I’m one of them. I’m an American citizen.”

Eventually, Kahlil and his friend were allowed to board the flight. As they passed through the aisle, one passenger became alarmed by a white box he was carrying. Eager to diffuse any fear, Kahlil revealed that it was only baclava and shared the pastries with those seated in the area.

The flight was ultimately delayed for just 10 minutes before taking off as planned. A statement from Dallas-based Southwest Airlines Co. said its employees followed safety procedures as trained to address "passenger situations."

“I swear, I never had that feeling before,” Khalil said. “I felt like we’re not safe no more in this country. Because I’m Arab, I cannot ride the airplane? The person who complained is the one who should be kicked out, not me.”