A Muslim passenger on board a United Airlines flight was the victim of discrimination from staff and passengers, after being refused a can of unopened diet coke as the flight attendant told her that she believed she would use it as a weapon.
Tahera Ahmed, a chaplain from Northwestern University, was travelling on an internal US flight from Chicago to Washington DC to a conference aimed at promoting dialogue between Israeli and Palestinian youth.
A passenger sitting next to Ahmad was given an unopened can of beer moments after Tahera was refused the soda. This prompted Tahera to ask the flight attendant why she had been refused service only moments before.
“We are unauthorized to give unopened cans to people because they may use it as a weapon on the plane,” the attendant told her. Tahera then recieved verbal abuse from other passengers nearby.
The airline face a customer backlash as a distressed Tahera tweeted about her experience moments after it happened.
A man sitting in the opposite aisle yelled at her saying; “you Muslim, you need to shut the F** up.”
The 31 year-old responded by saying, “What?!”
The man apparently leaned over, looked her in the eye and said: “Yes you know you would use it as a weapon, so shut the f**k up.”
You must have issues if you think someone can use a can of coke as a weapon. What happened to our society? #unitedfortahera
— Eric Moy (@EricMoy94) May 31, 2015
Fighting back tears so as to not cause a scene, Ahmad said she was shocked no one came to her defense, and that other people just shook their heads in dismay.
— Dimashqi2020 (@dimashqi2020) May 31, 2015
Horrified social media users have been voting with their feet and wallets after the scandal broke, with a number of passengers saying they will never fly with United Airlines again. Others have written messages of support for Ahmad on Twitter, under the hashtag, #unitedfortahera.
— Omar Suleiman (@omarsuleiman504) May 30, 2015
Ahmad, who says she has been a victim of Islamophobia on previous occasions, told the Chicago Sun-Times that the flight attendant’s behavior was particularly patronizing because she was “publically targeted as a threat to people.” “That is a very horrible feeling,” said Ahmad, who later added the flight attendant in question did apologize to her. “The flight attendant also acknowledged that the man who yelled at me was wrong for doing so and apologized that her behavior led to that. She acknowledged it was unethical and said he never should have said anything,” she said.
— AbdelRahman Murphy (@AbdelRahmanM) May 30, 2015
Ahmad also mentioned that once the plane had landed, the pilot came up to her and apologized for what had happened and personally took her to the service desk so she could file a complaint.
A spokesman for United Airlines, Charles Hobart, told newspaper the airline was trying to contact Ahmad in order to “get a better understanding of what occurred during the flight.” Hobart added United was discussing the alleged incident with Shuttle America, United’s regional partner and operator of the flight.