A viral video that ricocheted worldwide last month may not be what it seemed, according to the woman shown being dragged off a Southwest Airlines flight in Baltimore.
Southwest Airlines says the woman had complained about two dogs aboard the Los Angeles-bound aircraft on Sept. 26, stating that she had a life-threatening pet allergy. But the woman could not provide a medical certificate, without which the airline can deny a passenger boarding, it said.
What ensued was a scene that has become all too familiar in air travel.
The passenger refused requests to deplane, and law enforcement officers were called in to remove her from the flight.
The video shows the officers pulling her out of her seat. She screams at them, telling them, “Don’t touch me.” She is dragged down the aisle. She was later arrested and charged with disorderly conduct, failure to obey a reasonable and lawful order, disturbing the peace, obstructing and hindering a police officer, and resisting arrest.
That is one version of the events aboard the Southwest flight.
The woman, Anila Daulatzai, 46, has a very different account.
Daulatzai said she was traveling to see her elderly father, who was undergoing surgery. She told “Good Morning America” on Thursday that when she boarded the plane, “the first thing I asked the flight attendant was, ‘How many dogs are going to be on this plane?’”
But, she said, she never told airline personnel that her allergy was a life-threatening condition.
“I said, ‘It’s not life-threatening at all,’” she said.
Still, Daulatzai said, crew members continued to press her about her allergy and were uncomfortable with her on the plane.
“They just didn’t trust me,” she told the ABC News show, breaking her silence a week after video of the incident went viral. “I was a brown woman with a hoodie.”
Daulatzai added that she’s two months pregnant.
Daulatzai, a professor at the Maryland Institute College of Art, alleges that she never asked for the dogs to be removed from the plane, never claimed to have life-threatening allergies and was never asked for medical certification.
She was forced off the plane, she alleges, because of who she is: a woman of color and of the Islamic faith.
In a statement released Wednesday, Daulatzai’s attorneys charged that she was “profiled, abused, interrogated, detained, and subjected to false reporting and the trauma of racist, vitriolic public shaming precisely because she is a woman, a person of color, and a Muslim.”
“She survived sexism, racial profiling, and police brutality that fateful day,” reads the statement from Hall & Sethi, a law firm based in Reston, Va., that specializes in cases of personal injury. “Her mistreatment was particularly distressing because she is presently pregnant with her first child.”
Daulatzai had discussed her non-life-threatening dog allergies with Southwest crew members soon after boarding the aircraft, her attorneys say. But shortly after she had taken a seat at a safe distance from the dogs toward the back of the plane, a Southwest representative approached her, asking her to leave the plane. Despite assuring flight crew that she would be completely fine on the plane, her attorneys allege, Daulatzai was “pulled from her seat by her belt loop” and “dragged . . . through the aisle exposed with torn pants.”
Daulatzai’s attorneys say the charges filed against her “have no merit.”
Bill Dumas, the passenger who recorded the incident and uploaded it to YouTube, told NBC News that although the police were being “overly aggressive,” Daulatzai was combative and “wasn’t giving [the officers] much of a choice.”
In a statement to The Washington Post, the Maryland Transportation Authority Police said that “despite her clear attempt to resist a law enforcement officer, Ms. Daulatzai was professionally removed from the aircraft within the guidelines of the MDTA Police. This remains an open case that will be handled in the appropriate venue, not through various media channels.”
Since the incident, Daulatzai has received hate mail and violent threats and has had to leave her home out of fear for her safety, her attorneys said. They did not respond to emailed questions about next steps in the proceedings.
Reached for comment on the attorneys’ statement, Southwest repeated its response from last week that it is “disheartened by the way this situation unfolded and the customer’s removal by local law enforcement officers.”
The airline noted that it has “publicly apologized to this customer for her experience and made several attempts to contact her directly to address her concerns.”
This latest episode is just another in the seemingly endless stream of airline-passenger meltdowns. Other nightmarish incidents in recent months include the man who was violently dragged off a United Airlines plane in April, leaving him battered and limp, and the infant-carrying easyJet passenger who was punched in the face by an airport employee in July.
This post has been updated.