Russian-speaking passengers kicked off US flight

Washington, May 29 (IANS/RIA Novosti) A group of six Russian-American passengers was reportedly removed from a US budget airline flight set to take off from San Diego to Las Vegas, their lawyer said.

"They were on a flight, speaking to each other... in Russian, and about five minutes before the plane took off, someone came over and kicked them off the flight," said attorney Daniel Petrov, whose sister Sana Bitman was one of the six passengers asked to leave the Spirit Airlines flight.

"They never got an explanation," said Petrov.

The Russian-speakers were on their way to Las Vegas to meet old friends, whom they had not seen in around 20 years, to celebrate a marriage.

Media reports in San Diego said the group was asked to leave the plane because they were speaking Russian.

But Spirit Airlines spokeswoman Misty Pinson told RIA Novosti that the airlines' "preliminary review shows that the customers were asked to deplane for loud and disruptive behaviour".

The airline was in the process of conducting a complete review, and was "reaching out to the customers", she said.

But Petrov said the group believes they were speaking softer than other passengers on the plane and insists they were never asked to be quiet or warned that they might be kicked off the plane.

"Spirit said they warned them over the loudspeaker. But no one heard, and if they had warned them over the loudspeaker, what would they have said? 'You people speaking Russian, stop?'," Petrov asked.

"No one came up to them and said anything, ever. The only thing that was different between them and everyone else is that they were speaking Russian," he said.

Spirit refunded the group's air fares and offered to put them on a different flight to Las Vegas, but it did not fit with their schedule, Petrov said.

The group is trying to reach an out-of-court settlement with the airline, which Petrov says violated a section of California law that forbids discrimination based on, among other criteria, national origin.

Each passenger would be entitled to at least $4,000 plus legal fees, Petrov said, adding that his clients will sue if they cannot reach a settlement.

But he insisted that the expelled passengers were not trying to make an international incident out of the fact that they were booted from their flight and missed a party in Vegas. They are merely seeking justice under California law.

"We're not trying to make this a big deal because they're Russian. What we are saying is the US is a melting pot and you're not supposed to discriminate. We believe the airline did, and under California law, they're liable," the lawyer said.

--IANS/RIA Novosti

pm/vt

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