London - Four friends were thrown off a holiday flight to Turkey after being accused of repeatedly playing an audio track featuring the word “bomb” on a mobile phone.
The group, including two dentistry students, were met on arrival by armed officers after cabin crew reported they had been “extremely disruptive”.
But the friends on Thursday denied the claim, saying they had been targeted as “bearded Asians” and branding their treatment as “racist”.
The foursome – dentistry students Nabeal Iqbal, 19, and Hammad Ahmed, 21, warehouse manager Shabad Niaz, 23, and A-level student Tasiq Ali, 18 – were on a Thomas Cook Airlines flight from Manchester Airport to Dalaman in Turkey last month.
The airline said the four had been “extremely disruptive” and that one had upset passengers by repeatedly playing an audio track on a mobile in which the word “bomb” was used several times.
Four armed Turkish police officers boarded and removed them, and they were later refused entry to their return flight at the end of their holiday.
Thomas Cook said the group had insulted crew members and refused to sit down.
A spokesperson said: “This is not a case of an inexperienced crew over-reacting to some boisterous lads – these were cabin crew with over ten years’ experience and this was some of the worst behaviour they’ve experienced.” But Mr Iqbal, who like his friends is from Oldham insisted they hadn’t caused a problem on September 24.
He said the crew manager accused them of saying the word “bomb” and of saying they had left a bag containing a bomb in the toilet.
“We know we didn’t say bomb and we didn’t have a bomb,” he said.
“It was embarrassing. I would never say anything like that on an airplane.”
He denied any of the group had played an offensive recording, saying it was impossible to do so as there was no wi-fi connection.
“You could say we were a bit loud,” he said. “We were having a laugh and joke.”
Mr Iqbal said that as they were escorted from the plane, the cabin crew manager said: “I can’t believe you have said bomb on a plane, it’s disgusting and you will never fly with Thomas Cook again.” But he claimed they had been targeted because they were “bearded Asians”.
He added: “It was downright racist.”
Another passenger, Pamela Clarke, 55, of Sheffield, who supported the four, said: “I never heard anything about bombs. There was no bad behaviour.”
The group were released by police but say when they turned up at Dalaman Airport on September 30 for their return flight, they were turned away again and had to pay £125 (about R2 000) each to fly with Pegasus Airlines. A Thomas Cook Airlines spokesperson said: “We do not tolerate such severely disruptive behaviour.”