Airline Apologizes for 'Misunderstanding' After Attorney Blocked From Flight

Virgin America said the incident "was the result of a misunderstanding."

ByABC News
December 1, 2015, 3:57 PM

— -- Virgin America apologized to a Dallas attorney after he was banned from boarding his flight -- an incident the airline called a "misunderstanding."

Bobby Abtahi, an Iranian-American, was waiting to board his flight from New York to Dallas on Monday, when a flight agent "informed me that I wouldn't be getting on the flight," he told ABC News via Skype.

"I asked her why, and she said that because the captain and crew did not feel comfortable with me on board," Abtahi said. "She said that it wasn't her call, it was their call."

According to Abtahi, the crew told the agent that he "cut off a crew member on the way into the airport. I said, 'Well I was rushing to the gate, if I did, I'm sorry.' I said, 'I'll apologize.'"

The agent went back to the plane to ask the crew if they'd accept his apology, Abtahi explained, but the agent then returned and told him, "No, that's not going to work. They don't feel comfortable with you on the plane, you can't get on this flight."

At the gate, Abtahi said, he got on the phone with Virgin as other passengers walked by him and boarded.

"When they told me I couldn't get on the plane I was just really in a state of shock," he said. "But as reality started to set in and people who were boarding the plane were staring at me, I just really felt like I was out there on an island by myself."

That's when a supervisor came down and apologized, Abtahi said, telling him, while she didn't agree with the call, it wasn't her decision.

Virgin America spokesman Dave Arnold said in a statement that, “This was the result of a misunderstanding and we have apologized to Mr. Abtahi for his experience."

"As an airline that prides itself on our award-winning guest service, we take issues like this very seriously," Arnold said. "We are sorry Mr. Abtahi had this experience, as it was not representative of the guest service for which we are known."

Arnold told ABC News the airline reached out to Abtahi directly to apologize and "offered to compensate Mr. Abtahi for the inconvenience."

The incident the agent may have been referencing when she said, Abtahi "cut off a crew member on the way into the airport," was when he entered some revolving doors, Abtahi said.

"I got in and I started pressing ... I felt someone behind me and I realized, wait a minute, someone is in this small section with me," he recalled. "I couldn't turn around or anything, so I said, 'Are you in here with me?' And someone said, 'Yes, I am.' So we kind of awkwardly both pushed the door forward and got out."

"I went to security, and I didn't think anything of it," Abtahi said, adding that he's not sure if that was the incident in question.

Abtahi, who ended up taking an American Airlines flight home to Dallas, said of the incident with Virgin, "It's impossible to know for sure if this has anything to do with my ethnicity. Because I don't know what's going on in other people's heads."

"Whether it was because of that or not, it's a horrible feeling," he added.

Abtahi said, "I don't think the actions of [a] few people represent the whole airline," adding that he "wasn't really mad. I was just a little upset and felt bad about the whole situation."

He said his experience "should be an eye-opener to a lot of people out there, in what I feel like is the most subjective part of getting on an airplane."

"We have all these rules and regulations, but at any moment someone can feel uncomfortable, and you're just tossed off," he said. "And you are no longer innocent until proven guilty -- you're just guilty."