Frontier denies strip-searched flier Shoshana Hebshi racially profiled on 9/11 anniversary

shoshana hebshi.jpg
Shoshana Hebshi.
Update: Early reporting about a Frontier flight from Denver to Detroit on the tenth anniversary of 9/11 suggested, inaccurately, that fighter jets had been scrambled after a couple tried to join the Mile High Club in the plane's lavatory. Now, however, the tale's morphed, with Shoshana Hebshi, one of three passengers detained, charging that she was racially profiled -- an allegation a Frontier spokesman passionately denies.

Hebshi, who describes herself as half-Arab and half-Jewish, told the Associated Press that she was seated in the same row as two men of Indian descent, neither of whom she knew. One of the men reportedly became ill and spent what's been described as an inordinately long time in the plane's restroom, and the other used the facilities, too.

For whatever reason, these actions prompted security concerns, and as a result, F-16s were scrambled and authorities detained the trio upon landing. Hebshi says she was handcuffed, strip-searched and interrogated for four hours before being released.

frontier jet with bird on back.jpg
Hebshi's story has stirred controversy, with reports like the one below arguing that the trio was actually detained for the crime of having dark skin on a day when paranoia was running high. But Frontier spokesman Peter Kowalchuk stresses that the airline's personnel did not engage in racial profiling.

"The primary responsibility of our flight crews -- our pilots and flight attendants -- is the safety of all passengers on board the aircraft at all times," he writes via e-mail. "Last Sunday, September 11, they followed security protocols and responded to concerns expressed by passengers on the aircraft about the suspicious activity of two gentlemen -- and only two gentlemen -- onboard flight 623. After that, what happened was out of the control of the Frontier crew.

"On landing, and as the captain was heading for his gate, he was directed to a remote pad and ordered to await authorities. When they arrived and boarded the aircraft, the authorities did not consult any member of the crew -- not the pilots, not the flight attendants -- before taking action and removing the two men and a third person, Ms. Hebshi. All actions taken by the authorities after the suspicious activity was reported were their own and were made without any further involvement from Frontier or any company employee. No passengers, other than the two gentlemen, were reported by Frontier nor was any further action taken by Frontier."

But while Frontier had no involvement in the decision to handcuff, strip-search and interrogate Hebshi, authorities wouldn't have reacted had they not been alerted to a potential security issue by the flight's staff. Still, Kowalchuk sees the actions of Frontier personnel as not only justified, but laudatory.

detroit metro airport.jpg
Detroit Metro Airport.
"The crew members saw activity that was suspicious in nature and took the appropriate action based on that activity, not based on the people who were engaged in that activity or what they looked like or where they might have been from," he maintains. "There was no profiling of any kind associated with this incident other than that of unusual and suspicious behavior. Indeed, there was vigilance on the behalf of the flight crew that is the norm on every flight by every flight crew.

"It is unusual for people to spend ten to twenty minutes in the very small lavatories on our Airbus aircraft," he adds. "When that happens, it raises suspicions. It did in this case, both in the minds of our guests and the flight crew. They acted appropriately."

To underline the responsiveness of Frontier employees to passenger's worries, Kowalchuk poses the following question: "If one or more of your readers saw something that concerned them and they expressed their concern to a member of the crew who did nothing to check it out, would your readers think, 'That's okay, I'm much more comfortable knowing that Frontier doesn't care about my safety'?"

That the incident took place on such a high-profile anniversary also must be taken into account, he feels -- at least from a law-enforcement perspective. "The heightened security of the day and the fact that there had been other similar incidents on Sunday could have been factors in the way authorities responded, he allows. However, "it was not a factor in the way the Frontier crew responded. They saw behavior that concerned them and their guests and acted appropriately. What happened after that was determined by the responding authorities. Our duty and that of our flight crews is to ensure the safety of our passengers and we would never interfere with the authorities as they work to do the same."

Here's the aforementioned report about Hebshi, followed by our earlier coverage.


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14 comments
Electronic Cigarette
Electronic Cigarette

just my 2 cents and i may be wrong due to inflation: doesn't this show that al qaeda was successful in instilling terror in our minds?

Tim Hanner
Tim Hanner

So, tell me how ABC's " law enforcement source(s)" are not anonymous? You bitch about anonymous sources being used yet you want me to forget that ABC's is not sourced? 

MrGarrisonsVehicle
MrGarrisonsVehicle

Flight Crew thought process:  "We're not feeding them, the in-flight magazines cannot possibly be that enthralling, and I'm certainly not going to risk embarrassment by knocking on that door and asking 'is everything ok in there?', so it's best to conclude; there's a terrorist in there!  Scramble the fighter jets!"

Next up for airlines; charging lavatory use by the minute.  For your safety, of course.

Funnyshit
Funnyshit

the lesson here is don't be brown on a flight on 9/11. seems reasonable to me.

DB
DB

The Denver Post had this "update" yesterday, as did most other media, had you bothered to even do a basic Internet search on what you're giggling about. It is also worth noting that ABC used an anonymous source with no clear affiliation Sunday, much like Michael did a couple of weeks ago when every major fact later turned out to be wrong.  I thought reporters were supposed to use anonymous sources only in highly selective situations, not just as a vehicle for sensational or stuff they hope it turns out to be true, because people who won't use their names are free to embellish with impunity. Isn't this correct? As Denver's resident media critic, Michael could pose questions about the haphazard, irresponsible use of anonymous sources, and he could interview himself. I'm just disappointed and disgusted, every time I come to this site, at how sloppy and irresponsible Westword has gotten the last couple of years.

If you care, here's what ABC actually reported on its website Sunday, had you bothered to look it up: Instead, the "suspicious behavior" was two people "making out" in the bathroom mid-flight, law enforcement sources told ABC News

MickeyMantle
MickeyMantle

The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel had this on their website at 1 o'clock today:

The two men and a woman, sitting in the same row on Frontier Flight 623, were reported by crew members as exhibiting suspicious behavior after one of the men felt sick and went to the bathroom during the flight. His seat mate stood up around the same time, arousing concerns, the Wall Street Journal reports

Zibby
Zibby

If it was a couple going at it in the bathroom, why were three people arrested? Or was it a threesome in the bathroom? Now THAT would be news.

Robert Chase
Robert Chase

Imbeciles are in charge of our nation's security.  Sex in the toliet does not warrant scrambling fighter jets, and no possible outcome there could be improved by shooting down a passenger plane.  The SWAT team entered the plane and committed false arrest on three people -- was the third waiting to pee, or conspiring with the fornicators?

Nuts for Westword
Nuts for Westword

What in the name of Long Dong Silver is going on at Westword?  Far as I can tell, the "Latest Word" at Westword is SEX.  Get your freak on?  Discover your inner-kinks?  Slide shows of a 'sexy bandit'?  Half naked cheerleaders?  The Mile High Club?  Dang - if I didn't know better, I'd have thought Larry Flynt had taken over the editor chair at the "Latest Word".  Go 'on with your bad selves!

Tim Hanner
Tim Hanner

So, tell me how ABC's " law enforcement source(s)" are not anonymous? You bitch about anonymous sources being used yet you want me to forget that ABC's is not sourced?   I'm with Funnyshit-don't be brown on a flight or Arizona.

Sam
Sam

Can you even GET 3 people in there? Acrobatic loving of epic proportions! Kama Sutra eat your heart out...

Michael Roberts
Michael Roberts

Nope, Larry Flynt hasn't taken over the paper -- but love your post anyhow. We're going to make it an upcoming Comment of the Day. Congrats.

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