This morning Delta Connection flight 5452, a Bombardier CRJ-700 operated by Atlantic Southeast Airlines (ASA), pushed back from Memphis International Airport’s Gate B31 in a usual way, around its scheduled time at 8:40am … however what should have been a normal hour and a half flight has turned into the focal point for religious intolerance in the United States.
This morning as two Islamic Imams, Mohamed Zaghloul and Masoud Rahman, passed through security, traveling to the North American Imam Federation Conference, like many other travelers, they were selected by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) for secondary screenings. Imam Zaghlou and Imam Rahman caused no commotion during the secondary screening, their bags were checked and they were sent along to their gate with no further issues.
Initially Imam Zaghlou and Imam Rahman boarded Delta Flight 5452 without incident, wearing their traditional Indian and Arabic clothing, however once Flight 5452 pushed back and began taxing towards the runway the Captain decided that he was not comfortable with these two Islamic religious leaders on board his aircraft, returned to the gate and requested they be removed.
The Captain’s reason for the passengers being removed? He felt the two men, one an adjunct professor at the University of Memphis, could make the other passengers uncomfortable. Once back at the gate, Delta Air Lines managers spoke with the Captain for more than 30 minutes in an attempt to change his decision, however, despite reports that no passengers felt uncomfortable, the Captain did not relent and the two gentleman were left standing at the gate as the plane pushed back again at 10:59am.
While ASA’s spokesman Jarek Beem issued an official comment stating “We take security and safety very seriously,” it is important to note that the TSA played no part in the two men being removed from the flight and Delta Air Lines accommodated the men on the next available flight.
Had these men posed any risk, even a slight risk, they would have not been placed on the next flight, which was confirmed by ASA in this statement “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.”
While an airline Captain holds the absolute legal authority in having a passenger removed from their aircraft, the abuse of this power based on religious, racial and cultural intolerance should carry significant ramifications for a Captain.
We live in a global world, a world where cultures, religions and races intermix every second of every day. Airline pilots, and those in the airline industry as a whole, should be especially mindful of cultures from around the world and understand that a quick visual glance of a Jubba, Thawb, Sari, Boubou, etc, does not indicate a passenger is a risk. In the United States especially, blatant acts of ignorance should not occur … as the nation was founded on religious freedom and has become a global melting pot.
Happy Flying … hopefully …