Abdulaziz Al Mana, a doctor at Jackson Memorial Hospital, was on the phone with his wife minutes before his flight to Washington was supposed to take off on June 6.
But the plane did not take off.
Instead, Al Mana, who is a J1 Exchange Visitor visa recipient from Saudi Arabia, was escorted by authorities off the American Airlines flight at Miami International Airport. He handed over his phone as federal officials questioned him without explaining why he was singled out and deplaned, Al Mana alleges in a federal lawsuit filed last week.
In the lawsuit, Al Mana claims he was racially discriminated against for appearing Arab and Muslim and was “forcefully removed“ with no explanation.
The incident began after the plane had left the gate. As the plane briefly taxied, Al Mana said the pilot announced the flight would have to return to the gate over a “passenger emergency.” Al Mana said a woman sitting next to him handed a note to a flight attendant apparently suggesting that Al Mana was a threat to passengers.
Al Mana’s “wrongful removal was intentional and malicious,” the lawsuit alleges. He is suing the airline, the flight attendant who acted on the note, and the woman who wrote it.
”Our professional crews are there to ensure the safety and comfort of all customers as well as a positive travel experience and we take these allegations very seriously,” an American Airlines spokesperson said in a statement to the Miami Herald. “We received the complaint earlier this week and our team is investigating.”
American did not say what procedures it follows when passengers make allegations about safety concerns.
Al Mana’s lawyer, Oscar Gomez, said while Al Mana was on the phone with his wife, he told her he would “see her on the other side,” which was perceived by a woman sitting next to him as potentially threatening, according to the Miami New Times, which first reported on the lawsuit.
“He had somewhat of an indication [of what happened] because he noticed the woman who made the complaint sitting next to him was very anxious and nervous,” Gomez told the Miami Herald. “He did notice her hand something to the stewardess... he wasn’t sure that was the reason why.”
When the plane returned to the gate, Gomez said all passengers were later asked to deplane, delaying the flight several hours. Al Mana had already been removed from the plane.
Gomez said that even after authorities determined Al Mana was not a threat, he was told he should not get back on the plane, and that he should instead take a flight five hours later.
The woman who made the accusations was allowed back inside the plane, he said.
Gomez added that American Airlines did not share details with them about why Al Mana was pulled out of the plane, or their investigation. But because Al Mana is in Miami on an exchange visa, he wants to know if he has been placed on no-fly lists or any other federal watch lists.
The airline said Al Mana would have to subpoena the documents, Gomez said.
“He was given very scant information,” Gomez said. “He wants to know the circumstances of what this woman actually said. What I know about it is what he observed.”
Al Mana is seeking compensation for damages and emotional stress.