Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary has been criticised for saying Muslim men should be profiled at airports.
The chief executive told the Times that “males of a Muslim persuasion” who are single and travelling alone pose the largest terror threat to airlines.
The Muslim Council of Britain said Mr O’Leary’s comments were “racist and discriminatory”.
Ryanair later said Mr O’Leary was “only calling for more effective airport security checks”.
In the wide-ranging interview, Mr O’Leary, 58, said: “Who are the bombers? They are going to be single males travelling on their own. If you are travelling with a family of kids, on you go; the chances you are going to blow them all up is zero.
“You can’t say stuff, because it’s racism, but it will generally be males of a Muslim persuasion. Thirty years ago it was the Irish. If that is where the threat is coming from, deal with the threat.”
The MCB described Mr O’Leary’s comments as the “definition of Islamophobia” and said Muslims face institutional discrimination in many aspects of life.
“Institutional discrimination against Muslims is well established: whether it is the ability to get a job, buy a flat or even getting car insurance. The challenges of #flyingwhilstMuslim are well documented across the globe,” a spokesperson said.
“It is a shame that such racism is being expressed so openly, and that the CEO of a large airline would so want to discriminate against his customers so brazenly.”
‘More effective checks’
Ryanair said in a statement released on Saturday that “no call for extra checks on any group or persons was made” by Mr O’Leary in the Times interview, headlined “Airline boss wants extra checks on Muslim men”.
“Michael was only calling for more effective airport security checks which would do away with much of the unnecessary queues at airport security today for all passengers,” a spokesperson said.
“He apologises sincerely for any offence caused to any group by today’s inaccurate headline.”
Civil liberty groups have argued profiling, including on the basis of race, religion or gender, violates people’s rights.
One profiling expert previously told the BBC that the benefit of such profiling only outweighs the cost in exceptional circumstances.
Airlines in the UK have previously said airport security checks should be reduced to improve the experience for passengers.
People arriving and leaving the UK are already profiled by border agencies and police through advanced passenger information, including payment details and passport numbers.
Mr O’Leary, who has worked for Ryanair for 30 years, also used the interview to lament planning rules requiring the company to provide facilities for disabled staff and referred to obese passengers as “monsters” who “may need to buy two seats”.
And on the introduction of its new Boeing 737 Max planes, Mr O’Leary suggested Ryanair may offer discounts to entice passengers to fly on the crisis-hit aeroplane when it eventually re-enters service.
He said the jet – which has been grounded worldwide since March 2019 following two fatal crashes – “will be the safest, most checked” plane.
He added: “But we have a customer confidence issue. We will deal with that by hopefully having lower fares onboard the plane while trying it out.”
Mr O’Leary told the Independent last year passengers would not get a refund if they refused to fly on a Ryanair 737 Max.