The flight attendant who allegedly denied an unopened can of Diet Coke to Northwestern University Muslim chaplain Tahera Ahmad because she “may use it as a weapon” will no longer serve United Airlines customers, the company announced Wednesday.
In an angry Facebook post typed from the plane on Friday, Ahmad, who wears a religious headscarf, accused the attendant of discriminating against her. The comments sparked an uproar on social media — one that only got worse when an initial statement from United called the incident a “misunderstanding.”
A spokesperson for the airline apologized for the incident in a statement released Wednesday, writing that United “does not tolerate behavior that is discriminatory — or that appears to be discriminatory — against our customers or employees.”
Republic Airways, a partner of United’s that oversaw the Shuttle America flight Ahmad was on, told the Huffington Post that it has conducted an initial internal investigation of the complaint and determined that it was an isolated incident.
“We are in the process of reaching out to Ms. Ahmad to provide a formal apology,” a representative for the airline said, adding that the company regretted “the poor judgement and lack of sensitivity demonstrated by one of our flight attendants during a recent interaction with Ms. Ahmad.”
The dispute took place on a Friday flight from Chicago to Washington, D.C. Ahmad was on her way to a conference on interfaith dialogue when she asked the flight attendant for an unopened can of Diet Coke “for hygienic reasons,” she wrote on Facebook. She said that the flight attendant denied her request, then proceeded to bring an unopened can of beer to the man sitting next to her.
“She said, ‘We are unauthorized to give unopened cans to people because they may use it as a weapon on the plane,’” Ahmad wrote. “So I told her she was clearly discriminating against me because she gave the man next to me an unopened can of beer. She looked at his can, quickly grabbed it and opened it and said, ‘It’s so you don’t use it as a weapon.’”
When Ahmad looked to the other passengers for support, one man yelled, “You Moslem, you need to shut the f— up,” she wrote on Facebook. She ended the flight in tears, she said.
Speaking to the Chicago Sun-Times, Ahmad said that the flight attendant later apologized for the incident and that the pilot walked her to the service desk at Reagan National Airport once they landed so she could file a complaint.
It’s hard to independently confirm the details of Ahmad’s account — there’s no video of the exchange, and United has not offered its own description of the incident.
Regardless, the story seems to have touched a chord. Ahmad’s Twitter profile has been bombarded with messages of support from sympathizers and nearly as many comments from detractors who accuse her of blowing the story out of proportion.
The incident even made it onto Jon Stewart’s radar. “How does she not have the freedom to enjoy 12 ounces of our delicious yet corrosive sugar water?” he cracked on the Daily Show Wednesday night.
Ahmad has not responded to United’s latest statement. She did appear to appreciate Stewart’s remarks on the matter, though.