Adam Saleh just wanted to get home to New York City. Instead, he claims, he was ejected from a his Delta Airlines flight, simply for speaking Arabic.
Saleh, a YouTube star known for his viral prank videos, livestreamed his ordeal early Wednesday morning in a series of tweets and videos alleging racism on the part of Delta and the other passengers. He claimed that "racist people" had said they felt "uncomfortable" listening to him speak Arabic to his mother on the phone, and that flight attendants had told him to be quieter. "[People] were screaming at us like we were terrorists," he said in one video.
Eventually, Saleh said he was rebooked on another flight.
Saleh, whose popular YouTube channel has over a million and a half subscribers, is commonly known for orchestrating pranks, many of which play on his Arab heritage and Muslim faith. In 2014 Saleh found himself embroiled in a minor controversy after he was forced to admit that a video purporting to show racial discrimination on the part of the New York Police Department was, in fact, staged. He later described it as a "dramatization."
However, Wednesday morning's incident appears to be no hoax. Delta spokesperson Morgan Durrant confirmed the ejection in a statement to Fusion, saying:
We take all allegations of discrimination seriously and we are gathering all of the facts before jumping to any conclusion. Our culture requires treating everyone with respect. Furthermore, Delta people are trained to and frequently handle conflicts between passengers.
Maintaining a safe, comfortable and orderly onboard environment is paramount for every flight and requires the cooperation of all of our customers in conjunction with adherence to directions from our crew members. This is a Delta policy and is required by U.S. regulations as well as others governing aviation worldwide.
Two customers were removed from Delta flight 1 departing London-Heathrow today after a disturbance in the cabin resulted in more than 20 customers expressing their discomfort.
We have spoken with the customers who were removed; they were rebooked on another flight. Plans are in place to immediately speak with our crew and other passengers when the flight lands this afternoon. We will provide an update once we have more information.
Saleh continued live-tweeting his airline ordeal into Wednesday morning, telling his quarter-of-a-million followers that he had spoken with police, and was in the process of a second security check.
Saleh's experience—shocking as it may seem—follows a seemingly unending stream of alleged airline discrimination against Arab and Muslim passengers. In August, a trio of siblings were removed from an EasyJet flight from London to Italy after a fellow passenger complained to the flight crew. That same month, a Muslim couple returning home to Ohio after a trip to Paris were ejected after a crew member complained they'd said "Allah" while on the plane. In July, a Muslim passenger was kicked off a flight after a crew member repeatedly announced to the passengers that she'd be "watching" him. In April, an Iraqi college student was removed from a flight in California after being overheard speaking Arabic.
In fact, airlines have pretty free reign when it comes to who they can and can't eject from their flights. As Sarah Hagi noted in Fusion earlier this year, FAA regulations allow flight crew the ability to kick passengers off a plane for just about any reason, with little, if any, fear of reprisal.