WASHINGTON – A Muslim family removed from a plane Thursday after passengers became concerned about their conversation about the "safest" place to sit says AirTran officials refused to re-book them, even after FBI investigators cleared them of wrongdoing.
All eight members of the Irfan family from Alexandria, Va., and a friend were kicked off an Orlando-bound AirTran Airways flight after two other passengers overheard what they thought was a suspicious remark.
An unnamed source told MyFOXDC.com that they overheard one member of the family talking about the safest place to sit on a plane if a bomb was on board, though the family denied the word "bomb" was ever used.
"We're very careful about what we even say on the plane," Atif Irfan, who was kicked off the flight, told MyFOXDC.com. "Even if we were to say that's the bomb, we wouldn't even say that on the plane because we know to avoid certain buzz words, and we're very careful about this kind of stuff so, I don't know where they would have thought this whole incident even started from, quite frankly, what words we used."
Kashif Irfan told the Washington Post that other fliers heard them discussing the safest place to sit and misunderstood the nature of the conversation.
"My brother and his wife were discussing some aspect of airport security," Kashif Irfan told the Washington Post. "The only thing my brother said was, 'Wow, the jets are right next to my window.' I think they were remarking about safety."
Kashif Irfan, 34, is an anesthesiologist and his brother is a lawyer. Both live in Alexandria, Va., with their families, and were born in Detroit. They were traveling with their wives, Irfan's sister-in-law and Irfan's three sons, ages 7, 4 and 2. A family friend also was traveling with the group to a religious retreat in Florida.
Federal officials ordered the rest of the passengers from the plane and re-screened them before allowing the flight to depart.
The family was upset that AirTran didn't allow the Muslim passengers to book another flight. They eventually made it to their destination on a US Airways flight.
"The FBI agents actually cleared our names," Inayet Sahin, one of the family members kicked off the flight, told a cable news network. "They went on our behalf and spoke to the airlines and said, 'There is no suspicious activity here. They are clear. Please let them get on a flight so they can go on their vacation,' and they still refused."
Hutcheson said the passengers were given a full refund and are welcome to fly on AirTran now that the investigation is complete.
Hutcheson and a federal Transportation Security Administration spokeswoman said the pilot was right to postpone the flight.
"At the end of the day, people got on and made comments they shouldn't have made on the airplane, and other people heard them," Hutcheson said. "Other people heard them, misconstrued them. It just so happened these people were of Muslim faith and appearance. It escalated, it got out of hand and everyone took precautions."
Christopher White, a federal Transportation Security Administration spokesman, said the situation was handled appropriately.
White said the pilot, after being informed of the remarks, requested that two federal air marshals on board remove the individuals. TSA then alerted authorities, including the FBI, which conducted an investigation. Once authorities determined there was no threat, it was up to the airline whether to allow the family to reboard.
"If the pilot is uncomfortable with someone flying on their plane, that's their decision," White said.
A spokesman for the FBI did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday.
One of the passengers removed, Abdur Razack Aziz, said he will consider a lawsuit.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.