The nine Muslims who were ordered off of an AirTran Airways flight Thursday are considering filing a lawsuit, according to the 29-year-old lawyer whose offhand comment accidentally sparked the commotion.
“We’re actually mulling over whether or not we want to pursue it,” says Atif Irfan, of Alexandria, Va. “The federal agents who handled it handled it very well, but we’re concerned about the behavior of the airlines.”
Irfan, who is U.S.-born with Pakistani roots, was traveling to a religious retreat with seven family members and a friend when federal officials removed them from their plane at Reagan National Airport. Passengers panicked when they overheard he and his wife, having a playful conversation about what they thought would be the safest place to sit on a plane.
“I said it’s probably a good idea not to be by the engines if something happens,” Irfan says. “Obviously it had something to do with my skin color and that my wife wears a headscarf.”
Though FBI agents later cleared Irfan and the rest of his group, AirTran officials refused to let them book another flight on the airline. They were forced to buy tickets on U.S. Airways instead.
The story broke to reporters, causing a sensation, after Irfan and his family called the Council on American-Islamic Relations, which quickly sent out a media advisory. The organization filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Transportation on Friday.
AirTran has since issued an apology, calling the event a misunderstanding. It has offered to reimburse the cost of the cost of the U.S. Airways tickets and to fly the group back to Washington for free.
Though media reports have referred to him as a tax lawyer, at the moment Irfan is in the hunt for a job. A native of Detroit, Irfan earned his undergraduate degree from the University of Michigan, before attending the University of Illinois College of Law. He is licensed in Illinois, but worked at the Environmental Protection Agency in Washington during his 2L summer. After graduating, he spent a year consulting in Houston, but came back to the D.C.-area hoping to find work in tax or environmental law. His job search was interrupted, however when his father-in-law was shot and killed at the check-cashing store where he worked in Houston. Irfan says he has had about a month to seriously look for employment around Washington.
“It’s sort of one thing after another, huh?” he says.