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Friday, September 17, 2021

Qatar Airways ‘looking into’ midair assault on flight to Doha

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Photo for illustrative purposes only.
Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Qatar’s national carrier said that it is investigating an incident in which a man was attacked by four fellow passengers on a flight from Jeddah to Doha last month.

The inquiry came after the wife of the man detailed the encounter in a public Facebook post that has since gone viral.

In the post, Kehkashan Khalid described the incident as “terrifying” and alleged that it was racially motivated.

Photo for illustrative purposes only.
Photo for illustrative purposes only.

According to Khalid, the ordeal took place on June 30, and began when she and her husband were verbally attacked by a female passenger sitting in front of them.

Later, her husband was physically assaulted by four men who were sitting behind the Jeddah-based couple and their children.

Though her husband was not hurt in the incident, Khalid told Doha News that she is “very disappointed” at an apparent lack of action taken against his assailants after the assault.

In an email to Doha News, a Qatar Airways spokesperson said the airline is “looking into” the incident and has spoken to Khalid’s family.

Verbal abuse

Khalid, who is Pakistani, explained that she and her American husband Mohammad Hassan and two young children, ages three and two, were settling into their seats before take-off. They were flying to Lahore via Doha.

Suddenly, a woman sitting in front of them turned around and began to shout at them, saying “I just want some peace and quiet,” Khalid recalled.

In her post, she continued:

“At this point my kids were not even crying or making any movements, so I was thrown off. ‘Your voices are too loud!’ she continued to shout, gesturing furiously. My only question was, why was she then in economy class?”

Khalid maintains that her children – who fly regularly – were “in a happy mood” and “totally calm” when the woman began to yell.

Photo for illustrative purposes only.
Photo for illustrative purposes only.

According to Khalid, that passenger also yelled: “Well I am Qatari and this is Qatar Airways! So maybe you shouldn’t be here!”

A member of the airline’s cabin crew soon got involved, and offered to find Khalid and her family different seats.

But the flight was nearly full and he was unable to find four seats together, so they declined his offer.

“At that point, perhaps he should have moved the lady since she was an adult and could sit by herself, but since she was so rude to him as well I think he was intimidated,” Khalid told Doha News.

Physical assault

The flight then got underway and both of Khalid’s children fell asleep.

Khalid’s three-year-old daughter was sleeping on her husband’s lap, and to make himself more comfortable he decided to recline his seat, she said.

However, this action apparently upset a group of four men sitting behind them, she said:

“The Arabs sitting behind him started hitting his seat every time he tried to recline, refusing to let him do so, saying that since we were fighting with the Qatari lady in front we must be in the wrong, we must all be jerks.”

She told Doha News that three different members of Qatar Airways cabin crew spoke to the passengers behind them, telling them that her husband was entitled to recline his seat if he wanted.

Photo for illustrative purposes only.
Photo for illustrative purposes only.

But the crew were “shouted down” each time and Khalid said that they “left exasperated.”

“They (the men) continued to hammer the seat from behind till my three-year-old woke up,” Khalid told Doha News.

“When my husband turned his head to confront them, they rose out of their seats, grabbed his shirt collar and yanked him out of his seat, throwing him in the aisle.”

According to Khalid, the men tried to punch her husband, and removed his glasses and threw them.  They also apparently repeatedly called him “kalb” – Arabic for dog – among other “racial slurs.”

Other passengers stepped in to intervene, and Khalid’s husband was not injured in the incident, she said.

Following the assault, the cabin crew moved the family to different seats in the aircraft, although they were only able to find three seats, not the four they had originally paid for.

Race relations

Speaking to Doha News, Khalid said she believed the passengers mistreated her family because she is from Pakistan, and they were from Qatar.

“I did get that impression because otherwise, with our kids asleep, we really were the most harmless passengers. Why would anyone pick a fight unless that already had made up their mind to be offended by us?”

In part for that reason, Khalid’s post struck a chord online and was shared nearly 5,000 times on Facebook.

Photo for illustrative purposes only.
Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Many commenters called the incident outrageous and urged Qatar Airways to investigate. Some blamed Arabs for being xenophobic.

But others simply lamented that such an incident took place during Ramadan, a month focusing on restraint and patience. In this vein, commenter Amania Mohammed said:

“I am completely shocked as to how Muslims are behaving with other Muslims with children, and that too in Ramadan. Glad you guys are all okay, but truly sad to see such behavior.”

Qatar Airways’ response

This week, Khalid posted an update on Facebook saying that Qatar Airways has gotten in touch with the family to say they are investigating what happened.

The airline confirmed that the cabin crew had filed a report on the assault and that Qatar Airways “needed some time to verify things,” Khalid said.

Photo for illustrative purposes only.
Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Her husband also received an email apology stating that “action” had been taken against the perpetrators. However, the airline did not elaborate on what this entailed.

Qatar Airways also upgraded the family on their return trip from Lahore to Jeddah, Khalid said, and provided them with cabin crew to escort them throughout the trip “to ensure security.”

However, she told Doha News that she was still disappointed with the immediate response of the cabin crew to the assault on her husband.

“The crew were apologetic but helpless,” she said. “They said the best they could do was to relocate us to other seats and also file an incident report later.”

Responding to Doha News’ inquiries about the incident, a spokesperson for the airline said that she could not comment on what action it had taken “out of respect for the privacy of the other travelers.”

“We are in contact with the family directly to keep them informed,” she added.

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