Another week, another drama at United Airlines. This time on a United Airlines Express flight operated by Shuttle America. Let’s review the situation:
- Tahera Ahmad, Director of Interfaith Engagement at Northwestern University who was also wearing a hijab, onboard on flight from Chicago O’Hare to Washington National and requested Diet Coke
- FA opened the can and offered her the entire can
- She asked for an unopened can, citing hygienic reasons
- FA allegedly responded, “Well I’m sorry I just can’t give you an unopened can so no diet coke for you.”
- FA proceeds to give the passenger next to Ahmad an unopened can of beer
- Ahmad again asks why she cannot have an unopened can
- FA states, “We are unauthorized to give unopened cans to people because they may use it as a weapon on the plane.”
- Ahamd points out the man next to her was just given an unopened can
- FA grabs the beer can, opens it, and hands it back to the man
- Ahmad asks passengers around her if they had just witnessed the encounter
- A man across the aisle states, “You Muslim, you need to shut the f*** up.”
- He then leans over, looks Ahamd in the eyes, and states, “Yes, you know you would use it as a weapon so shut the f**k up.”
- No one comes to her defense
Here is Ms. Ahmad’s take on the incident:
United issued a half-hearted apology after the flight, stating
The flight attendant onboard Shuttle America flight 3504 attempted several times to accommodate Ms. Ahmad’s beverage request after a misunderstanding regarding a can of diet soda. The inflight crew met with Ms. Ahmad after the flight arrived in Washington to provide assistance and further discuss the matter. Additionally, we spoke with Ms. Ahmad yesterday to get a better understanding of what occurred and to apologize for not delivering the service our customers expect when traveling with us.
We look forward to having the opportunity to welcome Ms. Ahmad back.
Outraged, Ahmad responded on Facebook:
With growing media support and a clear narrative emerging that backed up Ahmad’s narrative, United issued a real apology today, stating that the FA would no longer be serving United customers:
While United did not operate the flight, Ms. Ahmad was our customer and we apologize to her for what occurred on the flight.After investigating this matter, United has ensured that the flight attendant, a Shuttle America employee, will no longer serve United customers.United does not tolerate behavior that is discriminatory – or that appears to be discriminatory – against our customers or employees.
All of United’s customer-facing employees undergo annual and recurrent customer service training, which includes lessons in cultural awareness. Customer-facing employees for Shuttle America also undergo cultural sensitivity training, and United will continue to work with all of our partners to deliver service that reflects United’s commitment to cultural awareness.
Good. Shuttle America serves both Delta and United and it sounds like the offending FA did not lose her job but will instead cover only Delta flights going forward.
A little perspective. United’s policy is that passengers should not be given full cans of soda unless requested. Further, cans should be opened when requested to encourage consumption on the aircraft (or more pointedly, to discourage consumption off the aircraft). Alcohol is a bit different, since it is not complimentary. It should be opened as well, but since it is paid for, it is considered more the property of the one who purchased it. On most flights I see alcohol served unopened while all complimentary beverages are served opened.
The idea that an unopened can of soda can be used a weapon is not found in any flight attendant handbook. Truly, a can could be used as a weapon — so could shoes, and computers, and bags. That was a big whopper on the part of the FA, likely displaying a latent bigotry toward Ms. Ahmad.
I can at least imagine (though I don’t believe it) that this truly was an innocent mistake on the part of the FA. What really bothers me about this story is the profanity-laced tirade of the man of the man across the aisle.
Actually, it’s not even that. What bothers me is that no one spoke up in defense of the woman. I’d like to think I would have, but who knows under pressure. What I do know is that we must stand against bigotry in all forms and the man across the aisle was guilty of the vilest of bigotry.
I think Ms. Ahmad strikes the proper tone in her reaction this evening to United’s apology–
Indeed, we must “continue to engage with each other, understand our stories, work towards the common good for humanity…and appreciate the rich diversity of our beautiful Nation.”
photo from Ahmad’s Facebook page