Aditya Mukerjee, a twentysomething hacker-in-residence for a New York company, recently experienced racial profiling at its worst. His detailed account of the nightmarish incident, "Don't Fly During Ramadan," went viral.
A few weeks ago, Mukerjee was scheduled to fly from New York to Los Angeles for a one-week annual pilgrimage with his family. He opted out of the millimeter wave detectors and was given a routine pat down by a Transportation Security Administration employee.
What followed next, according to him, was a traumatic ordeal that involved being held by TSA agents for hours without food or water and mostly rude (and ignorant) interrogation by agents, the FBI, and the cops. He was finally grounded by JetBlue, who mistook him for a Muslim. (He is a Hindu.)
Mukerjee was told by the TSA agents that he was setting off the machine that checks for explosive residue. Although he was patted down thoroughly in private and questioned for hours in a private room, the TSA could not determine what was setting off the device.
He was about to be cleared by the TSA, when this happened:
After the pat-down, the JetBlue representative walked in and cooly introduced herself by name.
She explained, "We have some questions for you to determine whether or not you're permitted to fly today. Have you flown on JetBlue before?"
"Maybe about ten times," I guessed.
"Ten what? Per month?"
"No, ten times total."
She paused, then asked,
"Will you have any trouble following the instructions of the crew and flight attendants on board the flight?"
"No." I had no idea why this would even be in doubt.
"We have some female flight attendants. Would you be able to follow their instructions?"
I was almost insulted by the question, but I answered calmly, "Yes, I can do that."
"Okay," she continued, "and will you need any special treatment during your flight? Do you need a special place to pray on board the aircraft?"
Only here did it hit me.
"No," I said with a light-hearted chuckle, trying to conceal any sign of how offensive her questions were. "Thank you for asking, but I don't need any special treatment."
When she returned, he was told that although he passed the TSA's inspection, "based on the responses you've given to questions, we're not going to permit you to fly today." He was also not permitted to book any other flight that day.
After Mukerjee's post went viral, many on Twitter came to his defense and questioned JetBlue's actions.
The airline did not offer a formal apology. They refunded his flight, but canceled his entire round-trip ticket.
Mukerjee told BuzzFeed that he was never shown any evidence that justified him being held for several hours. The agents also failed to identify the chemical that was setting the machine off.
He also said that, apart from two polite people, many of the officials who questioned him were disrespectful. But he added, "I don't hold their tone against them. The thing that got to me was the types of questions they were asking."
Mukerjee said he was presumed to be Muslim until a few hours later when a person representing the FBI asked him his religion.
"How many times a day do you pray?" he asked. This time, my surprise must have registered on my face, because he quickly added, "I'm not trying to offend you; I just don't know anything about Hinduism. For example, I know that people are fasting for Ramadan right now, but I don't have any idea what Hindus actually do on a daily basis."
Tasneem Nashrulla is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.
Contact Tasneem Nashrulla at email@example.com.
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