Dear Southwest Airlines, Please Get Your Act Together

Dear Southwest Airlines, please get your act together. Recent news of not one but two culturally insensitive incidents with your Muslim passengers have left me dumbfounded, to be honest. Why? Not only because I am a Muslim American but even more so because I too, am from Dallas, just like you. I too, prize the same southern hospitality that you insist is one of your airline's values. This type of behavior is not suited to our roots, is it?

I have traveled on Southwest countless times, even though your hub is at Hobby Airport, about an hour from my home. It's not just because of your free baggage allowance but more so because of your slogan LOVE, which I firmly believe our world needs more of. I have told everyone I have ever discussed travel with to try you at least once, because I am a big fan. Or at least I used to be before last week.

But today I am ashamed to be a Southwest Airlines fan, and I strongly suspect that all of Dallas is ashamed of you as well. With one of the most diverse populations in the country, Dallas stands for respect and diversity. For an airline with its home base here to forget both these values is shameful indeed.

You know what I am talking about, don't you? In a single week you kicked out a Berkeley student for speaking Arabic on the phone, and a Muslim woman wearing a hijab because her looks made others uncomfortable. Are you kidding me? This is the worst kind of stereotyping and you know it!

It's not the first time this has happened, with you or with other airlines, but that is no excuse. You can't discriminate against, humiliate and offend paid passengers who have passed security screenings at the airport with the excuse that everybody else is doing the same thing.

Yes, it seems as if we live in a world where hurting others is all right, where kindness and respect flies out the door when we see an "other" doing something "different" from us. To your staff, is respect and compassion only allowed for what you consider American?

Let me remind you that Muslims have been a part and parcel of this great land of ours since the first Muslim slaves arrived on these shores and built this nation with their blood, sweat and lives. Let me remind you that Americans speak a multitude of languages including Arabic, and wear a host of dresses, including the hijab. Would you throw out a Christian nun for wearing her habit? Would you kick out a Jewish man for speaking Hebrew? I think not.

Living in Dallas has taught me one thing: we are all different, and we can easily live together in peace and harmony if we open our hearts. It takes an active determination in our mind, but once we realize the importance of diversity, we rush to embrace it. It is no wonder that the Dallas Police Department was one of the first in the country to bring in experts such as myself to train law enforcement on how to work respectfully with Muslim populations. It is no wonder that today a variety of organizations in Dallas - from colleges to churches to corporations - continue to ask me and others like me to train their staff on cultural sensitivity. Because we all think being different is good, it enriches us all because we learn from it. It is sad that you, who are from Dallas as well, have not learned this lesson yet.

So dear Southwest Airlines, I respectfully ask you to get your act together, otherwise you will not only lose business but also your reputation. In the minds of your passengers you will have fallen too far to ever regain your footing. You will have no right to use the word LOVE on your airplanes or your brochures or even on those little napkins your flight attendants hand out with the peanuts. I ask that you not only apologize but also make sure this never happens again. Get some experts to train your staff on cultural sensitivity, teach them about Arabic phrases like Inshallah which the Berkeley student was saying, or the hijab the Muslim woman was wearing. Encourage your staff to ask questions, give them the opportunity to remove their assumptions and learn the facts. I am only one such expert, you will find many in the Dallas area ready to help you live up to your slogan.

I hope I am right about you, Southwest Airlines. I hope you will redeem yourself. All of Dallas is looking at you.

A frequent flyer and cultural sensitivity trainer,
Saadia Faruqi.