FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- An 18-month-old girl was pulled off a JetBlue flight before it departed Fort Lauderdale on Tuesday because airline officials thought her name was on a No Fly list.
The child's parents, who declined to give their names, say they think their daughter Riyanna was singled out because they are of Middle Eastern descent. The mother wears a hijab, a traditional head scarf.
"It's absurd," Riyanna's father told WPBF 25 News, ABC's local affiliate in West Palm Beach. "It made no sense. Why would an 18-month-old child be on a No Fly list?"
Although the family ultimately was cleared to re-board the flight from Fort Lauderdale to Newark on Tuesday evening, they declined to do so, saying they were too embarrassed.
JetBlue said Thursday the problem stemmed from a "glitch" in its computer system, which flagged the name on the child's boarding pass as being on a federal no-fly list. Federal officials say the problem never should have occurred because those lists are based on passenger's full name, date of birth and gender.
"Our crew members followed the appropriate protocols, and we apologize to the family involved in this unfortunate circumstance," said airline spokeswoman Sharon A. Jones. "Our crew members are trained to address each situation discreetly, treating every customer with dignity and respect."
Flight 510 was scheduled to depart Fort Lauderdale at 6:52 p.m. on Tuesday. An airline representative boarded the plane while it was parked at its gate, and told the family TSA officials wanted to talk to them.
"And I said, 'For what?'" Riyanna's mother told WPBF. "And he said, 'Well, it's not you or your husband. Your daughter was flagged as No Fly.' I said, 'Excuse me?'"
The girl's father said it was humiliating to be pulled off the plane in front of other passengers.
"We were put on display like a circus act because my wife wears a hijab," he said.
JetBlue officials say before taking the action, they first "notified and collaborated" with the Transportation Security Administration.
The TSA, however, said it played no role in taking the family off the plane, other than to be called to the gate by the airline.
"TSA did not flag this child as being on the No Fly list," agency spokeswoman Sari Koshetz said.
She said the TSA instead determined "the airline had mistakenly indicated the child was on a government watch list."
If the girl's name had been on such a list, she wouldn't have been issued a boarding pass, the TSA said. That's because all passengers must be cleared by the TSA's Security Flight program.
That system requires passengers provide their full name, gender and birthday when they purchase tickets and checks passenger names against watch lists.
"If a passenger is able to print a boarding pass at home or at an airport kiosk, then, in fact, that passenger has been cleared by TSA's Security Flight program," Koshetz said.
Citing security reasons, the TSA declined to say how many passengers are denied boarding passes because their names appeared on No Fly lists, which are maintained by the FBI.
Jones, the JetBlue spokeswoman, said the airline is investigating the incident and "takes all security concerns very seriously."