The Council on American-Islamic Relations chapter in Cincinnati on Thursday requested a federal investigation into an incident involving two Muslim passengers who allegedly were removed from a Delta Air Lines flight in Paris.
The married couple, Faisal and Nazia Ali, are U.S. citizens of Pakistani descent who on July 26 were headed home after a trip to France, according to CAIR, a Washington-based Muslim civil rights organization.
Passengers had been waiting 45 minutes for the flight to take off when the Alis were asked to leave the plane, according to CAIR. The couple was told a flight attendant was not comfortable having them on the flight.
Delta said in a statement it “condemns discrimination in regards to age, race, nationality, religion, sexual orientation or gender” and “is deeply committed to treating all of our customers with respect.”
The airline said it was “concerned by the allegations,” is investigating the matter and will issue a full refund of the passengers’ air fare.
Nazia Ali wears a hijab, a religious headscarf. The flight attendant “reportedly claimed that Faisal Ali tried to hide his cell phone and was sweating and that he said the word ‘Allah,’ ” according to CAIR. The organization said Ali put his phone in his pocket after texting his mother to let her know they were on the plane, and that the flight had been delayed at the gate and it was warm on the plane.
The couple were questioned by police and had to wait 24 hours to take another flight, according to CAIR, which wrote in a letter to the U.S. Department of Transportation that “it is clear that Mr. & Mrs. Ali were being singled out due to their Muslim appearance and name.”
Federal code prohibits an airline from subjecting a person in air transportation to “discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, sex or ancestry.”
CAIR staff attorney Sana Hassan wrote in the letter to the DOT that “it is apparent that Delta… removed Mr. & Mrs. Ali from their flight not out of a legitimate and credible safety concern or need, but because of their identifiably Muslim name and appearance.”
The group cited a number of incidents reported on other airlines this year allegedly involving the removal of passengers with Muslim or Middle Eastern backgrounds, and called for an examination into airlines’ practices and for the development of “policy guidelines on the objective factors” to consider when determining whether a passenger can be legally removed from a flight.
The DOT said it investigates all discrimination-related complaints that it receives, and will look into the matter when it receives the letter from CAIR.