Nazia Ali and her husband, Faisal, had recently boarded a flight bound for their home in Ohio after a trip to London and Paris, where they had celebrated their 10th wedding anniversary.
Unknown to them, a member of the Delta flight crew had informed the pilot that a Muslim couple in economy class had left her feeling uneasy, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer.
The woman’s reasoning: Nazia was using a phone and wearing a headscarf, the Enquirer reported. Her husband, the crew member told the pilot, was sweating.
The woman also claimed that she had heard the married couple use the word “Allah” — the Arabic word for God.
The pilot informed the ground crew that he would not take off until the couple were removed from the flight, the Enquirer reported.
“We had been in our seats for 45 minutes,” Nazia Ali, 34, 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.’ ”
Muslim advocates called the decision to remove the couple from the July 26 flight from Paris to Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky International Airport the latest incident of “religious profiling.”
In a statement released last week by the Cincinnati chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, staff lawyer Sana Hassan called for U.S. government action. The Muslim advocacy group also announced plans to file a religious-profiling complaint against Delta Air Lines to the U.S. Transportation Department.
“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,” the statement said.
In a statement released to The Washington Post, the airline said it “condemns discrimination 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,” the statement added. “Delta continues its investigation into this matter and will issue a full refund of these customers’ airfare.”
The incident occurred days after a woman returning to England after her honeymoon in Turkey was pulled from a passport line at Doncaster Sheffield Airport in South Yorkshire, according to The Washington Post’s Elise Schmelzer.
Faizah Shaheen, a British psychotherapist employed by Britain’s National Health Service, said she was questioned for 15 minutes by authorities using their powers under the country’s 2000 Terrorism Act, the Guardian reported Thursday.
The officers told her that a Thomson Airways attendant on a previous flight had reported her for “suspicious behavior.”
Her crime? Reading a book about Syria.
“I asked what was going on and they said I had been reported due to a book I was reading and was to be questioned under the Terrorism Act,” Shaheen told the Independent.
Originally from Pakistan, Faisal and Nazia Ali have been U.S. citizens for 16 years, according to the Enquirer.
After their vacation, they were excited to come home and see their three sons, ages 2, 4 and 5, they told the paper.
Delta paid for their hotel room and they were able to fly home the next day, according to the Associated Press.
Karen Dabdoub, executive director and litigation assistant at CAIR, told the Enquirer that instances of Islamophobia spike during election seasons.
In recent months, CAIR representatives have told The Post, that spike is linked to “anti-Muslim rhetoric and falsehoods being espoused” by Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump.
“There are some politicians who will try to climb that ladder of success on the backs of American-Muslims,” Dabdoub told the Enquirer. “Of course, we’re not alone. These types of incidents are happening all across the country all too frequently. It is another symptom of the anti-Muslim behavior we see during the election season.”
Nazia Ali called the incident on the Delta flight “humiliating.”
“We were treated like criminals,” she told the Enquirer. “I thought, ‘We are American citizens. You can’t do this to us.’ ”
But, she said, she hopes their painful experience leads to more awareness.
“I want people to be educated,” she said. “This was an international flight crew. They should be more educated than to make assumptions based on appearance.”