EVANSTON, Ill. (WLS) — United Airlines is taking action in response to a discrimination complaint by a Muslim chaplain at Northwestern University.
Tahera Ahmad says she is still reeling from the incident.
“This was not about a can of diet soda. This was much deeper,” Ahmad said.
Ahmad was on a United Airlines flight Friday from Chicago to Washington, D.C., when she said a flight attendant gave another passenger an unopened beer can. The flight attended then refused Ahmad’s request for an unopened can of Diet Coke. When Ahmad questioned the policy, she says the flight attendant told her she would use it as a weapon. The attendant then abruptly opened the beer can of the other passenger.
Ahmad was wearing a headscarf, or hijab.
Shocked, Ahmad asked other passengers if they had seen what happened.
A man sitting across the aisle turned to her and yelled, “You Muslim, you need to shut the f- up,” she said.
“I’m basically captive 30,000 feet above the ground in a post-September 11th world and if I say anything, it’s fulfilling the stereotype, so to speak,” Ahmad said.
Ahmad says the flight attendant and the pilot later apologized, but she wants United Airlines to acknowledge the incident as discriminatory and to condemn it.
Ahmad is supported in that effort by the Council for American Islamic Relations (CAIR).
“This is about acknowledging the act of discrimination not trivializing it as a regular mundane conversation about a Diet Coke can, but about the hurt it caused a person,” said Ahmed Rehab, executive director, CAIR-Chicago.
United previously issued a statement that described the incident as “a misunderstanding regarding a can of diet soda.”
But on Wednesday afternoon, the airline sharpened its stance saying:
“After investigating this matter, United has ensured that the flight attendant, a Shuttle America employee, will no longer serve United customers. United does not tolerate behavior that is discriminatory, or that appears to be discriminatory, against our customers or employees.”
The statement follows a letter to United from Northwestern University President Morton Shapiro, who wants a more formal apology for Ahmad along with assurances that United will train its staff so that she, and others, are never again subjected to such discrimination on a United flight.
CAIR said taking legal action is a possibility, but a last resort. Their only goal is ensuring that all passengers are treated with respect.
As for the flight attendant, Ahmad says she does not want her off the job, she just wants this to be a learning experience.