The U.S. Department of Transportation has fined Delta $50,000 for two incidents of profiling that adversely impacted Muslim passengers. Delta maintains it did nothing wrong.
Incident #1: Delta Flight Attendant “Uncomfortable” With Passenger Who Did Not Smile
A Muslim couple were flying on Delta from Paris to Cincinnati in 2016. A passenger told a flight attendant that he had seen the passenger “put something in his watch”. Upon investigation, the flight attendant felt uncomfortable because the woman was wearing a headscarf and because her husband appeared to be sweating. She also noticed (somehow…) that the husband texted the word “Allah” several time. Finally, she was concerned that he did not make eye contact when she smiled. Another flight attendant saw the man quickly change his screen when she walked by. Both relayed their concerns to the captain, who alerted ground staff.
The couple were removed and faced additional screening (we don’t know the specifics). Although cleared by security, the captain demanded another round of security. The couple was again cleared. Still, the couple were not allowed back onboard and were booked on another Delta flight the next day.
After an extended investigation, the DOT determined it was only their religion that made the Delta flight crew uncomfortable and that the couple was unjustly denied boarding.
Incident #2: Man Removed For Making “Significant” Eye Contact
Just days later a second incident occurred, this time from Amsterdam to New York. At least one passenger reported that one Muslim-looking man onboard was “making significant eye contact” with another “person of similar ethnicity” and later allegedly received a package from him.
The pilot spoke to Delta security officials on the ground who had interviewed the couple earlier and then pushed the aircraft from the gate and prepared for takeoff. But flight attendants insisted the passengers be removed, saying one passenger also looked sweaty and anxious.
The flight returned to the gate and the and was ejected. He was promptly rebooked on another flight with no additional screening. This, said the DOT, constituted proof that he was not deemed a true threat and thus pure unlawful discrimination.
Delta must now pay a $50,000 fine and provide cultural sensitivity training for the crews of the two flights in question.
While Delta insists “it acted on observations of behavior, rather than identity,” it added “that it has learned from the two incidents at issue here, and has improved its processes because of them.”
Still, a Delta spokesperson insists that the carrier could have done better, but was justified in removing the passengers:
“While we understand that our best customer service was not reflected in how the incident was handled, we disagree with the Department of Transportation’s contention that Delta engaged in discriminatory conduct. For that reason, we have worked to improve our investigative process since these incidents and we have supporting programs, policies, training and procedures that back up our commitments in this area.”
CONCLUSION (+ My Thoughts)
This is a difficult issue…don’t try and argue otherwise. Would I be afraid if I saw a young Muslim man looking nervously around an aircraft and sweating? Yes, I would…for better or for worse, I’d be suspicious of any person who looked nervous and was sweating.
But I also realize that the reason he may be sweating and looking nervous is precisely because he already has a target on his back and is deemed by many to be inherently suspect and guilty until proven innocent. That’s a huge problem.
Maybe the crew was justified, though I tend to think not if even the Trump-led DOT concluded the discrimination was not justified. Hopefully there will be a day when someone with dark skin wearing a taqiyah is not instantly viewed as suspicious…
image: Mila Supinskaya Glashchenko / Shutterstock.com