A Philadelphia pizza shop owner and his friend had to call 911 in Chicago's Midway airport Wednesday night in order to get on their flight home.
Maher Khalil and Anas Ayyad said they were profiled — asked to step aside during the boarding process because a fellow passenger said he was afraid to fly with them.
"If that person doesn't feel safe, let them take the bus," Khalil said to a Southwest Airlines gate agent. "We're American citizens just like everybody else."
U.S. & World
Stories that affect your life across the U.S. and around the world.
Khalil, 29 and Ayyad, 28, moved to Philadelphia from Palestine 15 years ago. Khalil now owns the Feltonville pizza shop — Pizza Point — that gave him his first job. The friends were in Chicago visiting each other's families and met back at the airport Wednesday night to take the same flight home. The gate agent told them apologetically they wouldn't be allowed to board because a passenger was afraid to fly with them after overhearing the men speaking Arabic.
"I didn't know what to do, so I called the cops," Khalil said.
The flight was delayed and the two men were ultimately allowed to board after being questioned again by airport security and police. The airline issued a statement acknowledging a brief disagreement with two customers.
A second Southwest flight from Chicago to Houston was also delayed Wednesday night when passengers refused to allow six Muslims on the flight. The Muslim passengers had to be rebooked on another flight.
"Safety is our primary focus, and our Employees are trained to make decisions to ensure that safety, and to safeguard the security of our Crews and Customers on every flight," the airline's statement read.
Some passengers were very supportive, Khalil said, but others made the flight home outright uncomfortable.
"We're walking down the aisle and I'd already told him [Ayyad] to smile and act like nothing was wrong. But then people kept asking me, 'What's in that box?!' I was carrying a small white box. And the passengers made me open the box!"
"So I shared my baklava with them."