A Muslim couple returning home to Ohio after an anniversary trip to Paris were kicked off a Delta Airlines flight after a crew member said she was uncomfortable with them, the Cincinnati Enquirer reports.
Nazia and Faisal Ali had just boarded a flight from Paris to Cincinnati on July 26 when a ground agent boarded the flight. They were asked to disembark.
"We had been in our seats for 45 minutes," Nazia Ali told the Enquirer. "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.'"
They were removed from the flights because a member of the crew told the pilot the couple made her feel uneasy, the Post reports, citing the fact that Nazia wore a hijab and was using a cellphone. The crew member also reportedly said she was uncomfortable because Faisal was sweating, and said she heard the couple say the word "Allah."
Hate crimes against Muslims tripled in France last year according to the country's interior minister, in the wake of killings by Islamic extremists at French magazine Charlie Hebdo and in the large scale attacks in Paris on Nov. 13 last year, in which 130 people were killed.
And in the U.S., an analysis of F.B.I. data in December found that hate crimes against Muslims in America tripled in the month following the Paris attacks, supporting anecdotal evidence from Muslim community groups that they're being targeted more for hate crimes and discrimination.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations has filed a religious profiling complaint against the airline with the Department of Transportation.
"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 Airlines, 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," said CAIR-Cincinnati staff attorney Sana Hassan in a statement.
After several similar incidents of alleged profiling over the past year, the group is calling on the Department of Transportation to develop new security guidelines that they say need to be based on other objective criteria rather than just the way passengers look.
"It can't be based on a person's appearance, which is exactly what happened here. Airline staff is supposed to be watching out for suspicious behavior. It should not be based on your looks," Hassan told Fusion. "In this case they claim that Mr. Ali was sweating, and that was something that was found to be objectionable."
CAIR-Cincinnati is also calling for airline and airport staff to be required to go through regular sensitivity and diversity training to avoid passengers from minority backgrounds being unfairly targeted.
In statement released to the Enquirer on Friday, Delta said an investigation into the incident is ongoing:
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.
Delta did not return requests for further comment.