News & Views

Airline slapped $50,000 fine for ordering Muslim passengers off flights

An Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines has been fined to pay $50,000 over violating anti-bias laws in the United States (US) by ordering three Muslim passengers off two separate flights despite getting clearance from the company’s own security staff for travelling.

A consent order released on Friday by the US Department of Transportation (DoT) read the airline denied that it discriminated against the passengers in two separate incidents but agreed it could have handled the situations differently.

The DoT said anti-bias laws were violated by Delta Air Lines after removing the passengers and ordered it to provide cultural-sensitivity training to pilots, flight attendants and customer-service agents involved in the incidents.

A Muslim couple, Faisal and Nazia Ali had been removed from Delta Flight 229 at Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris on July 26, 2016, after a passenger told a flight attendant their behaviour made her “very uncomfortable and nervous”.

Nazia Ali was wearing a headscarf and the passenger said the woman had inserted something into his watch. The flight attendant said she saw Faisal texting on his cellphone using the word “Allah” several times, foreign media reported.

The DoT said the captain had failed to follow Delta’s security protocol and it appeared that the passengers’ perceived religion, Delta would not have removed or denied them reboarding of their flight.

The other case in the consent order occurred five days later in Amsterdam. Flight attendants and passengers complained about a Muslim passenger but the co-pilot saw nothing unusual about the man and Delta’s security office said his record raised no concern.

The captain prepared to begin the New York-bound flight, then returned to the gate and had the man and his bags removed and the area around his seat searched. The man was not subjected to additional screening before boarding a later flight, which the DoT said showed that his removal from the first flight was discriminatory.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) questioned the size of the penalty.

Delta earned nearly $4.8bn last year and, for a company that profitable, “$50,000 is basically a slap on the wrist”, said Karen Dabdoub, executive director of CAIR’s Cincinnati chapter.

“But it’s a good sign that DOT is taking this seriously,” she added. “I’m glad to see that Delta received some sort of a sanction.”

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