SAN DIEGO -- For the first time, two of the six local soccer players kicked off a Southwest flight are speaking out about their experience, claiming they were targeted for speaking their native language.
"Because we're Arab," Ghazwan Shaba said. "That's why, we're not from here. We're from Iraq. They want to make it seem like it's a big deal."
It's a trip a group of local Chaldean soccer players will never forget. While on a flight bound for Chicago, they encountered a flight attendant they allege was mean to them from the moment they boarded.
Saiman Hermez said the flight attendant lied about him refusing to put up his tray table. He says that because he had his headphones on, he didn't hear the flight attendant until she instructed him a second time.
"I took off my headphones and she said, 'put your tray table up,' with an attitude," Hermez said. "And she yelled at me. I said, 'I'm sorry,' and I put it up."
The teens say the flight attendant refused to sell alcohol to those over 21 because she told them they were being loud. They admit they can be a little loud when speaking Chaldean.
"Thanks for America for letting us live here and for giving us our rights, but speaking our own language, there's nothing wrong with it,” Shaba said.
Shaba believes he and his friends were victims of racial profiling. They say they had no idea the plane was being diverted to Amarillo, Texas, until they landed. They were more surprised when the door opened up and officers came rushing towards them.
“I was like, 'I'm still in a dream and I'm going to wake up in a plane in Chicago,'" Shaba said. "I was telling them (my friends) that. I swear. I didn't think it was real."
"Their character was defamed," Chaldean-American spokesman Mark Arabo said. "Their reputation has been harmed. And it's all because this flight attendant lied.”
Authorities took six from the group of 12 into custody. They were arrested and charged with a federal count of interfering with the flight crew. They were accused of being drunk and fighting.
“That is a lie, none of us were drunk,” Hermez said.
Southwest Airlines has commented in the past that the suspects were being "disorderly, and subsequently, refused to obey the instructions of the crew.”
The two teens say the flight attendant overreacted. They believe their excitement for their first trip in five years since coming to America was mistaken for being rowdy and loud.
“In the front of us, there was a teacher," Shaba said. "She got up and she asked the flight attendant: ‘Can you just leave them alone. You’re making it seem like a big deal. Everyone’s watching them and you’re embarrassing them.'"
Federal charges against the two teens were dropped Sept. 24.
The other four appear in federal court in Texas on Oct. 6. The teens are confident their charges will be dropped as well. The group plans to sue Southwest.
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