A family from Bradford have recounted the moment they were forced to leave a plane due to a boarding pass mix up, leaving group members ‘traumatised’ and feeling like ‘suspected terrorists’.
Najan Azhar, 51, from Bradford, was looking forward to the ‘holiday of a lifetime’ with 10 relatives last month after booking a family getaway to Marmaris, Turkey.
After passing the regular security checks at Doncaster Sheffield Airport, the group waited to board the plane and sat down at the airport cafe, just metres away from their boarding gate.
Najan recalled: “It was just the normal waiting procedure really. Someone in the group began feeding her baby and the cleaners came round to clean up whilst we ate.
“We went to board. It was then that we noticed two boarding passes were missing – mine and my husband’s.”
As three members of the family frantically searched for the missing passes, other relatives were settling into their seats having boarded the plane.
Najan added: “We were desperately looking for the passes and even told the cleaners to look in the bins. My daughter was upset because she’d arranged it all. We were all distraught because we weren’t allowed to get on without them.”
The passes were eventually found by a member of the cleaning staff who allegedly claims they had been discovered inside a sandwich box in the bin.
After speaking with the boarding staff, Najan says she was ‘furious’ that the group were still denied entry to their pre-paid flight.
“We don’t know why,” Najan said. “We had made it through all the other checks, showed our boarding passes a number of times, and still we couldn’t get on the plane.
“We felt as though we were being treated as terrorists. The family members who had already boarded told the captain ‘the kids can’t fly without their mother or grandmother’.”
Najan’s son, Hasan Azhar, was one of those relatives who had already taken his seat when the commotion started.
“The captain said my mum couldn’t get on and that all of us would have to get off the flight if we refused to go without her. Everyone was just staring at us. How we were treated that day was disgusting.
“It was a bit daunting because we really were the only Asians on the aeroplane. We didn’t sleep because we were so stressed out.”
The mix up eventually cost the family hundreds of pounds to rectify.
Despite being issued with flights on the next plane to Marmaris by the airline, the 11 holidaymakers had to transfer from Doncaster to Manchester Airport – at their own expense, whilst one member of the group dropped out of the holiday due to ‘stress’.
There was also the added expense of losing two days of their holiday due to the mix-up, with the original flight time – 8.35am on 25th July – changed to 9.30pm the following day.
“We still had to return on 1st August so our holiday was cut short,” Najan said. “We had kids as young as one travelling with us, so to be given tickets on such a late flight, when our original booking was in the early morning, was disgraceful.
“It was an expensive delay and one we should never have been forced to go through. We felt victimised by the airline. Was it because of the colour of our skin? I don’t know.”
After returning from the holiday, the family complained to Thompson but were reportedly told there was ‘nothing that could be done’.
“We will continue to fight this,” Najan concluded. “To be taken off the plane and escorted back out of the gate was humiliating.
“People were looking at us like we had done something wrong, like we were a threat to security. The kids still don’t understand what happened.
“The three-year-old told her friends: ‘We went on the plane but it didn’t fly.’ What kind of a life experience is that for her?”
Flying as a Muslim
In today’s climate, which is fuelled by daily stories of terrorism, it is seemingly becoming increasingly difficult to board a plane when Muslim.
Earlier this month, a Muslim couple – Nazia and Faisal Ali – were removed from a flight from France to the US.
A flight crew member had complained to the pilot that she was uncomfortable with the Muslim couple in the second row of economy class.
The woman was wearing a head scarf and using a phone and the man was sweating, she allegedly told the pilot. The pilot contacted the ground crew. He would not take off until couple was removed.
The flight attendant allegedly also complained that the couple used the word ‘Allah’. The airline in question subsequently said it was ‘deeply committed to treating all of our customers with respect’.
Other examples this summer include NHS mental-health worker Faizah Shaheen who was on her way back from her honeymoon when she was detained and questioned for 15 minutes by police under schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act.
Cabin crew on her outbound flight said they had seen her reading a book about Syria. Shaheen said she was left in tears by the experience. Thomson airlines said: “Our crew are trained to report any concerns they may have as a precaution.”