Updated with video and a response from ASA below:
Two Muslim men were removed from a Delta commuter flight operated by Atlantic Southeast Airlines Friday after the pilot refused to fly with them on board.
Masudur Rahman, an Arabic-language instructor at the University of Memphis and Mohamed Zaghloul, a religious leader in the Islamic Association of Greater Memphis told the AP they were removed from a flight leaving Memphis International Airport, heading for Charlotte, after the pilot refused to takeoff.
According to Charlotte-area station WBTV, the men have “retained counsel and the US attorney’s office has already been contacted about the incident.”
Rahman told the AP he “was dressed in traditional Indian clothing” and Zaghloul “was dressed in Arab garb, including traditional headgear” when they boarded the 8:40 AM flight to Charlotte.
The plane had left the gate and was headed for the runway when the pilot decided to turn back. Rahman said the pair were “ordered off by a Delta Supervisor.” From WBTV:
“He said ‘Mr. Rahman, sorry the pilot is not allowing you to enter the plane.’ I said ‘For what reason, TSA had a problem and we were cleared, we don’t have anything and we are respected people in our community’.”
But, according to Rahman, the pilot said, “I’m not going to take to you.”
“For what reason, he said some ‘passengers might be upset or uncomfortable’,” Raham said the pilot told him.
Rahman told the AP “Delta officials talked with the pilot for more than a half-hour, but he still refused.”
Delta has referred the AP’s questions about the flight to ASA. Rahman told the wire service he understands what the strange travel diversion was about.
“It’s racism and bias because of our religion and appearance and because of misinformation about our religion.” Rahman told the AP. “If they understood Islam, they wouldn’t do this.”
When the pair eventually did land in Charlotte, they were met by local TV reporters. Here’s a report from Charlotte’s WCNC-TV:
Asked about the incident, a spokesperson for ASA told TPM the airline offered an apology “for any inconvenience” caused by the travel delay for Rahman and Zaghloul. The full statement from the airline, sent to TPM Saturday:
Atlantic Southeast Airlines flight 5452 from Memphis to Charlotte returned to the gate to allow for additional screening of a passenger and the passenger’s companion. We take security and safety very seriously, and the event is currently under investigation. Compensation and re-accommodation on the next available flight were immediately offered to the passenger and the passenger’s travel companion. We sincerely apologize for any inconvenience that this may have caused.