Elham Asaad Buaras
United Airlines is facing a boycott campaign after a Muslim passenger said she was subjected Islamophobic treatment by a flight attendant.
Tahera Ahmad said a United attendant on the flight from Chicago to Washington on May 29 refused to give her an unopened can of coke, telling her it could be used “as a weapon.”
Ahmad, a chaplain at Chicago’s Northwestern University, wrote about her alleged experience in a Facebook post while at 30,000 ft. She said she was “in tears of humiliation from discrimination”.
“The flight attendant brought over an open can of diet soda, so I requested, for hygienic reasons, a closed can of diet soda, ” said Ahmad. “And so she said, ‘Well, no one has consumed from this can.’ And I said, ‘That’s fine but I would really prefer for hygienic reasons and health concerns.’ She said, ‘Well, it is against our policy to give people unopened canned beverages.’”
“And then she said, ‘No diet coke for you,’ and she picked up the beverage from my tray table and took it back,” she said.
When she confronted the attendant, “She said it is against our policy to give people unopened can beverages because they may use it as a weapon.”
“So I said, ‘Well I think that’s strange because you’re discriminating against me because clearly you gave the passenger next to me an unopened beverage can.’ And so she looked at that, picked it up, opened it and put it back. And as she was putting it back she said, ‘It’s because you would use it as a weapon.’”
“At that point I was in utter shock. I was almost tearing up.”
Ahmad said she then asked the other passengers, “Did you all just witness this discrimination?” and she claims another passenger muttered “you Muslim” and told her to shut up.
“And he said, ‘You know you would use it as a weapon,’” Ahmad recounted.
“I just couldn’t believe what he had said,” Ahmad said. “I was in tears.”
The attendant apologised after the flight, Ahmad said, but she told the attendant that her actions made her feel “very threatened.”
“I was the one who felt very unsafe,” Ahmad said.
After the post went viral, people took to Twitter to give messages of support to Ahmad using the hashtag #unitedfortahera, while many claimed they would be boycotting the airline over the incident, and called for others to follow suit.
An initial statement from United Airlines said that the flight attendant had attempted several times to accommodate Ahmad’s beverage request after a misunderstanding regarding a can of soda, adding that “we spoke with Ahmad to get a better understanding of what occurred and to apologise for not delivering the service our customers expected when travelling with us.”
Though Ahmad acknowledged that she received the apology, she wrote a further post outlining her disappointment that the airline “dismissed [this] as a mere can of soda issue” instead of dealing with what she felt was discriminating behaviour.
“I want to make it very clear to the public that my intentions are not to get the flight attendant who behaved very rudely towards me fired. I simply did not expect United Airlines to dismiss the unwarranted and unfortunate rude behaviour, discrimination and hateful words but rather acknowledge their accountability and role in the painful experience and share corrective measures within their training to prevent this from happening again regardless of their race, religion, gender, sex, or socioeconomic background,” she wrote.
On June 3 United Airlines released a statement saying that after an investigation, the employee of Shuttle America – a company United uses to feed their services – will no longer be allowed to work on its flights.