#FlyingWhileBrown, #FlyingWhileMuslim and #FlyingWhileBlack aren’t just hashtags. They refer to real-life experiences of profiling, discrimination, intrusive body searches, and secondary screenings that many nonwhite passengers encounter when they fly. But how much harder is it to fly if you are a woman of color?
Two recent incidents provide some disturbing answers to that question. In September, Anila Daulatzai, a frequent Southwest Airlines flier, had a traumatic experience on a flight bound for Los Angeles from Baltimore-Washington International Airport. Daulatzai, a Pakistani American and Muslim woman, asked to be seated far away from dogs on the flight because of an allergy. Southwest Airlines personnel demanded that Daulatzai leave the flight, despite Daulatzai’s assurances that her allergies were not life-threatening. Instead of believing Daulatzai and granting her the agency to make knowledgeable decisions about her own body and her flying preferences, airline personnel and a pilot escalated the situation. They called in airport law enforcement from the Maryland Transportation Authority Police (MTAP) who proceeded to forcibly remove Daulatzai off the flight, despite her pleas that she is pregnant. Daulatzai claims that she was pulled from her seat via her belt and then dragged through the aisle with torn pants. But Daulatzai’s ordeal didn’t end there. She alleges that MTAP law-enforcement agents made racist remarks about immigrants. The MTAP also charged her with five criminal charges, including disorderly conduct, failure to obey a reasonable and lawful order, disturbing the peace, obstructing and hindering a police officer, and resisting arrest.
Daulatzai isn’t the only woman of color to be taken off an airplane recently. Tamika Mallory, one of the organizers of the Women’s March, claims that a white pilot removed her from an American Airlines flight a few days ago. Mallory says that the pilot asked whether “she would behave” on the flight after overhearing a conversation between her and a ticket agent about a change in her seat. Airline personnel then contacted airport police who removed Mallory, as well as a black male passenger traveling with her—artist and activist Mysonne—off the flight.
While neither Daulatzai nor Mallory have been given any satisfactory explanations for their expulsions (Southwest has apologized), they are both clear about the racial and misogynistic overtones in the ways they were treated. In a segment on Good Morning America, Daulatzai states that airline staff didn’t like her presence—a “brown woman wearing a hoodie.” In a series of tweets and at a press conference with her lawyers, Mallory made it plain that racism, anti-blackness and “white male aggression” permeated the encounter she had with the American Airlines pilot. In order to try and stay on the plane, “I basically had to tell Massa that I was not going to be a runaway slave,” Mallory said at the press conference.