With federal agents hovering over him and his plane grounded at JFK, Fikry walked past his fellow passengers, who stared as he exited the aircraft. He said he felt ashamed.
Still groggy from the sleeping pill, Fikry was held in the jetway for about an hour. The officers, who included FBI agents and New York police detectives, took his passport before questioning him about his travel plans and frequent flights.
"They mentioned Cairo several times and focused on my travels to the Middle East," Fikry said. "I told them it was because I have family and conduct business there."
Agents told him that a flight attendant claimed that she saw him on a tram for American Airlines employees. She feared that he had somehow circumvented security to get on the flight, they told him.
He asked to speak with the attendant.
A few minutes later, she came into the jetway.
"Did you, at any time during the bus journey, have a conversation with me? Did we exchange eye contact? Or did I make any gesture you remember?" he asked.
She replied no, he said.
After boarding, "Didn't you say I was a good passenger to have on a flight?" Fikry asked her.
She answered "indeed you were," then left the jetway. The agents escorted Fikry to the seating area next to the gate.
Still groggy, he lay down -- head against his duffel bag -- and again fell asleep.
He awoke two hours later. It was about 4 a.m. He was surrounded by agents.
"They were looking at me as if I was the son of Osama bin Laden," Fikry said. "It was a horrible and humiliating feeling."
He received police escorts to the lavatory. One watched the door. Another stood over him.
Over the next few hours, agents checked out Fikry's alibis. They learned that he had in fact parked in the regular lot, gotten his ticket at the counter, gone through security and even spent some time at American's Admiral's Club before boarding the plane.
By noon, agents told him he was free to go. Slowly the story began to spread, with officials telling the media that the passenger had indeed gone through regular security channels.
Even though he felt a measure of vindication, Fikry said the experience left him dazed, disappointed -- and incredulous about how the word of one flight attendant could count against him with no supporting evidence.
"It was purely based on appearance, heritage and my name," he said.
FBI and American Airlines officials deny this, saying their people handled the incident properly.
FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller said that although most reports of suspicious activity are "resolved with no charges brought," it was the bureau's "responsibility to investigate reports by citizens of suspicious activity . . . particularly in a period of heightened awareness when the FBI has called for a vigilant public."
Through a spokesman, American Airlines said it had investigated what happened and found "no reason to think that our flight attendant was motivated by any improper motive or that her actions resulted from anything other than an honest case of mistaken identity." American declined to make the attendant available for an interview.
The spokesman, Tim Smith, said the carrier had "attempted to address the inconvenience Mr. Fikry experienced by arranging, at our expense, for upgraded travel on American for the balance of his itinerary to Europe and back to California."
Fikry continued to travel on American Airlines, including flights to Costa Rica, Mexico, Panama, the Philippines, the Netherlands, Italy and Egypt. But he was a different traveler. He was much more cautious about avoiding misunderstandings. He stopped striking up conversations with strangers in the next seat and bringing his laptop on the plane. Even in the Admiral's Club, he tried to keep his head down and mind his own business.
On Sept. 26, he boarded Flight 136 from Los Angeles to London -- the same flight on which he was detained in July.
He even sat in the same seat.
He was relieved that the flight went smoothly. But he was also disappointed that while the crew seemed at ease with him, they chose not to apologize for the way he had been treated.
He brooded. In December, he asked his attorney to send a letter to American demanding an apology, further compensation for the lost time waiting at JFK and a discussion of ways to prevent others from being treated the same way.
As he waited for a response, he continued to fly American Airlines. By January, he was only 50,000 miles shy of amassing 5 million. Reaching the milestone was important to him -- bragging rights for a man who had spent a large chunk of his life in the air. Though there is no specific reward for accruing 5 million miles, under American's rules, passengers with Fikry's mileage level are eligible for automatic upgrades and other perks.
A January trip from Tokyo to Los Angeles would close the gap further.
Fikry settled into his seat in business class. Then his eyes met those of the flight attendant who had accused him back in July. She was serving passengers in his part of the cabin.