A Muslim family kicked off of a United Airlines flight for reasons that remain in dispute is demanding an apology from the airline, the Chicago Tribune is reporting.
On March 20, the Muslim family of five from the Chicago suburb of Libertyville had just boarded a United Airlines flight at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, bound for Washington, D.C. What happened before the flight left the airport is a matter of dispute, but according to Ahmed Rehab, executive director of Chicago’s Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the family — who simply asked for a minor accommodation for the safety of their young child — was singled out for being Muslim.
— The Independent (@Independent) April 2, 2016
According to Rehab’s account of the incident, the family attempted to check the booster seat they brought with them, but the United Airlines ticketing agent said their computers were down and told the family to bring the seat on board the aircraft.
Once on the plane, the family secured their two oldest children before attempting to secure their youngest in her booster seat. The father says he asked for an additional strap for the booster seat — something that United Airlines’ website said would be available. The flight attendant, however, said she had no idea what the man was talking about and walked away.
A short time later, another flight attendant came by and told the family to leave the plane because of a “safety issue.”
The mother, who was wearing a hijab — the traditional headscarf worn by some Muslim women — recorded the interaction on her cell phone. In the video, which you can see below, the woman can be heard asking, “Is this a discriminatory decision? What is the reason?”
The family then decided to leave the flight without any further protestations, the father says, in order to avoid traumatizing or further embarrassing themselves and their children.
“Shame on you #unitedAirlines for profiling my family and me for no reason other than how we look and kicking us off the plane for ‘safety flight issues’ on our flight to DC for the kids spring break. My three kids are too young to have experienced this.”
The family took a later flight to their destination, and booked their flight home through another airline rather than United.
The mother, in a statement through CAIR, described the experience as “humiliating.”
“I felt singled-out, humiliated and helpless.”
CAIR, which is representing the family in their dispute, said in a statement, via CNN, that the Muslim family was singled out and considered a safety threat simply because they are Muslims.
“We are tired of Muslim-looking passengers being removed from flights for the flimsiest reasons, under a cryptic claim of ‘security’.”
United Airlines, however, paints a different picture of what happened that day. In a statement, the airline said that the family was asked to leave the plane because their child’s safety seat was not compliant with federal airline regulations, and was a safety concern.
“They were originally scheduled to fly on SkyWest 5811, operating as United Express from Chicago O’Hare to Washington, D.C., but we rebooked them on a later flight because of concerns about their child’s safety seat, which did not comply with federal safety regulations. Both United and SkyWest hold our employees to the highest standards of professionalism and have zero tolerance for discrimination.”
According to United Airlines’ website’s article on “Traveling With Infants and Children,” children’s booster seats must be government-certified for use on aircraft.
“The seat must conform to all applicable Federal Motor Vehicle standards. If manufactured after February 2, 1985, the seat must be certified for use in motor vehicles and aircraft.”
The Muslim family has asked United Airlines for reimbursement for their altered travel plans and flight with another airline, corrective action for all employees involved, and a formal apology.
[Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images]