Virgin American has apologized to an Iranian-American attorney after he was turned away at the gate from boarding his flight home to Dallas because the crew was "not comfortable" with him on the plane.
On Monday, Bobby Abtahi, a Dallas-based lawyer, was waiting to board his flight from LaGuardia Airport in New York City to Dallas Ft. Worth when an agent told him that he “wouldn’t be getting on the flight,” reports ABC News.
When Abtahi asked her why, “she said that because the captain and crew did not feel comfortable with me on board," Abtahi said. "She said that it wasn't her call, it was their call."
The crew allegedly told the gate agent that Abtahi had “cut off a crew member on the way into the airport.” Abtahi told ABC that he tried to explain and said “'Well I was rushing to the gate, if I did, I'm sorry.' I said, 'I'll apologize.'"
Abtahi said the agent then went back to the crew to see if they would accept the attorney’s apology but when she returned she told him that it wasn’t going to work. “They [the airplane crew] don't feel comfortable with you on the plane, you can't get on this flight."
The attorney told ABC that the incident that sparked the ban may have happened earlier that day when he got caught in an airport revolving door with another person—who may have been a crew member.
"I got in and I started pressing ... I felt someone behind me and I realized, wait a minute, someone is in this small section with me," he explained. "I couldn't turn around or anything, so I said, 'Are you in here with me?' And someone said, 'Yes, I am.' So we kind of awkwardly both pushed the door forward and got out."
But at the time, Abtahi said he didn’t think anything off it and went through security without incident.
Back at the gate, Abtahi said he watched in a state of shock as other passengers boarded. A supervisor came over to him and apologized, saying she “didn’t agree with the call,” but that it wasn’t her decision.
Abtahi ended up taking an American Airlines flight back to Dallas.
In a statement to ABC, Virgin America spokesman Dave Arnold said, “This was the result of a misunderstanding and we have apologized to Mr. Abtahi for his experience. As an airline that prides itself on our award-winning guest service, we take issues like this very seriously. We are sorry Mr. Abtahi had this experience, as it was not representative of the guest service for which we are known."
Abtahi says Virgin America has apologized directly and offered him two free flights as well compensation for the price of the American Airlines ticket. Tuesday evening, he tweeted that the tickets had been donated to the Human Rights Initiative of North Texas.
No problem! You guys do great work. https://t.co/h3MyVsJ67a
— Bobby Abtahi (@BobbyAbtahi) December 1, 2015
He said he does think the experience will serve as an “eye-opener” to many.
"It's impossible to know for sure if this has anything to do with my ethnicity,” Abtahi said.
"We have all these rules and regulations, but at any moment someone can feel uncomfortable, and you're just tossed off. And you are no longer innocent until proven guilty. You're just guilty."