ABC News(CHICAGO) — After a Muslim woman accused the crew of a United Airlines flight of discrimination, the company has apologized for what it called a “misunderstanding.”
The passenger said a United attendant on the flight from Chicago to Washington on Friday refused to give her an unopened can of coke, allegedly telling her it could be used “as a weapon.”
“The flight attendant brought over an open can of diet soda, so I requested, for hygienic reasons, a closed can of diet soda,” Tahera Ahmad, a chaplain at Northwestern University, told ABC News affiliate WLS-TV on Sunday. “And so she said, ‘Well, no one has consumed from this can.’ And I said, ‘That’s fine but I would really prefer for hygienic reasons and health concerns.’ … She said, ‘Well, it is against our policy to give people unopened canned beverages.'”
“And then she said, ‘No diet coke for you,’ and she picked up the beverage from my tray table and took it back,” she said.
Ahmad said the same flight attendant then served an unopened can of beer to another passenger.
When she confronted the attendant, “She said it is against our policy to give people unopened can beverages because they may use it as a weapon.”
“So I said, ‘Well I think that’s strange because you’re discriminating against me because clearly you gave the passenger next to me an unopened beverage can.’ And so she looked at that, picked it up, opened it and put it back. And as she was putting it back she said, ‘It’s because you would use it as a weapon.'”
“At that point I was in utter shock,” she told WLS-TV. “I was almost tearing up.”
Ahmad said she then asked the other passengers, “Did you all just witness this discrimination?” and she claims another passenger muttered “you Muslim” and told her to shut up.
“And he said, ‘You know you would use it as a weapon,'” Ahmad recounted.
“I just couldn’t believe what he had said,” Ahmad said. “I was in tears.”
The attendant apologized after the flight, Ahmad said, but she told the attendant that her actions made her feel “very threatened.”
“I was the one who felt very unsafe,” Ahmad said.
United Airlines said Monday in a statement to ABC News: “United is a company that strongly supports diversity and inclusion, and we and our partners do not discriminate against our employees or customers. The flight attendant onboard Shuttle America flight 3504 attempted several times to accommodate Ms. Ahmad’s beverage request after a misunderstanding regarding a can of diet soda.”
“The inflight crew met with Ms. Ahmad after the flight arrived in Washington to provide assistance and further discuss the matter,” United added. “Additionally, we spoke with Ms. Ahmad on Saturday to get a better understanding of what occurred and to apologize for not delivering the service our customers expect when traveling with us.”
Ahmad confirmed the airline called and apologized, but she also said the company “trivialized” the incident.
United “failed to recognized discrimination when it happened,” she said. “I was really hoping that United would acknowledge discrimination and bigotry when it happens and then talk about how they’re going to correct it.”
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