Sikh, 3 Muslims kicked off flight as their appearance made pilot uneasy

New York: A Sikh man along with his four friends, who were kicked out from an American Airlines flight because their appearance made the captain uneasy has filed a USD 9 million lawsuit against the airline.

Shan Anand, a Sikh, along with three other friends - Faimul Alam besides a Bangladeshi Muslim and an Arab Muslim - all young US citizens, were ordered off the flight 44718 from Toronto to New York last month based upon their perceived race, colour and ethnicity, CNN reported today.

The Bangladeshi Muslim and Arab Muslim were identified only by their initials W.H. and M.K. Anand and Alam switched seats with strangers after boarding, so they could sit next to W.H. and M.K. Several minutes later, a white woman flight attendant asked W.H. to get off the plane, according to the lawsuit, which was filed yesterday in Brooklyn Federal Court.

When they asked the flight crew why they were being removed, the flight attendant told them to exit "peacefully" and 'demanded' they return to the gate and await further directions, the lawsuit said. "It basically made me feel like a criminal," W.H. said, adding: "It was like I was put on a pedestal where everyone is pointing at you. I was frightened that they were frightened."

It was only after the plane took off that an airline agent told the men "they could not board because the crew members, and specifically the captain, felt uneasy and uncomfortable with their presence on the flight and as such, refused to fly unless they were removed from the flight," the report said.

The flight took off, leaving the four men behind. "They said it was protocol," said Anand.

Passengers surrounding Alam and Anand started making racist comments and clutching their children "as if something was going to happen," the suit charges.

When the group asked the agent whether their appearance had contributed to their removal, "being that they are dark-skinned and had beards," the agent responded that their appearance "did not help," the lawsuit said.

The four men are seeking damages, alleging the airline "disgracefully engaged in the discrimination ... based on their perceived race, colour, ethnicity, alienage and/or national origin," the lawsuit reads.

Each of the men are now seeking USD 1 million in compensatory damages and USD 5 million in punitive damages in the USD 9 million lawsuit filed on Monday. The flight was operated by Republic Airways, a regional partner of American Airlines.

A spokesman for Republic Airways declined to comment on the suit. American Airlines is reviewing the lawsuit, according to spokeswoman Victoria Lupica.

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