Nazia Ali had removed her sneakers, finished sending a text message to her parents and was putting on headphones and settling into her seat for the nine-hour flight from Paris to Cincinnati when a Delta Air Lines crew member approached she and her husband, Faisal.
They were excited to come home July 26 to West Chester Township to see their three young sons following a 10th-anniversary trip to London and Paris, “the city of romance and love,” he said.
What happened next would overshadow the good times they’d enjoyed: A flight crew member had complained to the pilot that she was uncomfortable with the Muslim couple in the second row of economy class. The woman was wearing a head scarf and using a phone, and the man was sweating, she allegedly told the pilot.
The pilot contacted the ground crew. He would not take off until couple was removed.
“We had been in our seats for 45 minutes,” Nazia Ali, 34, said Thursday from the Cincinnati area office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations in suburban Blue Ash. “The ground agent said, `Can you step out with me? We’d like to ask you a few questions.’ So I said, `Do you want us to get our things?’ And he said, `Yes, please grab all of your personal belongings. You’re not going to be on this flight.’ “
In the wake of the couple’s removal from the flight, the Muslim advocacy group announced Thursday it was filing a religious profiling complaint against Delta Air Lines to the U.S. Department of Transportation.
In a letter to be submitted to the department’s Aviation Consumer Protection Division, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-Cincinnati) alleges that two Muslim passengers were singled out for removal from a Delta flight from Paris after a flight attendant said she was not comfortable with them being on the plane.
The flight’s destination was the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport. It’s not clear where the flight crew was based.
“We call on the U.S. Department of Transportation to conduct a thorough examination into the prevailing practices of major American air carriers, including Delta Air Lines, and to develop policy guidelines on the objective factors that are to be considered when determining that a passenger may legally be removed from a flight,” CAIR-Cincinnati attorney Sana Hassan said.
Faisal and Nazia Ali, Hassan and Karen Dabdoub, executive director of CAIR-Cincinnati, spoke at a 1 p.m. news conference.
Shortly thereafter, Delta Air Lines released its second statement of the day to the media.
The Delta statement reads: “Delta condemns discrimination toward our customers in regards to age, race, nationality, religion, sexual orientation or gender. As a global airline that brings hundreds of thousands of people together every day, Delta is deeply committed to treating all of our customers with respect. Delta continues its investigation into this matter and will issue a full refund of these customers’ airfare.”
The flight attendant claimed that Faisal Ali tried to hide his cell phone and that she had heard the couple use the word “Allah.” Allah is the Arabic word for God.
In CAIR’s letter to federal transportation officials, attorney Hassan wrote that Delta discriminated against the couple in violation of federal law. The organization wants the Department of Transportation to create guidelines for U.S.-based airlines on the removal of passengers for safety.
Dabdoub said that her organization nationally sees spikes in anti-Muslim behavior and examples of Islamophobia during election seasons — this year being no exception.
“There are some politicians who will try to climb that ladder of success on the backs of American-Muslims,” she said. “Of course, we’re not alone. These types of incidents are happening all across the country all too frequently. It is another symptom of the anti-Muslim behavior we see during the election season.”
Two American Muslim women who work for the federal government were removed Wednesday night from an American Airlines flight at Miami International Airport. A flight attendant felt threatened by their presence, according to reports.
Faisal and Nazia Ali, both of whom emigrated to the United States with their respective families from Pakistan, became U.S. citizens 16 years ago. They are parents of three sons, ages 5, 4 and 2. He is 36 and works as director of operations for Healing Touch, a home health care company that he owns with his father and brother. He has a degree from the University of Cincinnati. She attended Wright State University. They worship at the Islamic Center of Greater Cincinnati in West Chester Township.
Once they were led off the flight — they said they saw other Muslim women wearing head scarves seated toward the rear of the plane — they were questioned in a “rough manner” by a French security official.
“He said, `How long were you here?’ We said, `Two days,’ ” Nazia Ali said. He asked where they stayed. They showed him the address of the hotel. He took cell phone photographs of their passports. The couple insisted they be allowed back on their flight but noticed that it was pushing back from the gate.
“He said to us, `You did nothing wrong. That’s the way the world is right now,’ ” Faisal Ali said.
Delta paid for their hotel room that night at a hotel near the airport.
They flew back to Cincinnati the next day. Nazia Ali said she had briefly considered not wearing her head scarf, but anger overtook her and she refused to alter her appearance, “because I did nothing wrong.
“It was humiliating. We were treated like criminals. I thought, `We are American citizens. You can’t do this to us.’ “
Asked, finally, what she would like to see come of their experience, Nazia Ali said, “I want people to be educated. This was an international flight crew. They should be more educated than to make assumptions based on appearance.”
by Mark Curnutte, firstname.lastname@example.org