Delta Connection Flight Ejects Muslim Passengers

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.

Ironically, Imam Zaghlou and Imam Rahman  were traveling to a conference on Islamophobia, an irrational fear of Islam.

Happy Flying … hopefully …



  1. Shocking…and unfortunately not so shocking at the same time. This shows we have such a ways to go in combating ignorance in our country…

  2. This is a really worrying incident. Is it right for an airline to remove people from a flight just because a pilot doesn’t like the way a passenger *looks*? Absolutely not! This needs to be nipped in the bud. Otherwise, what’s next? Orthodox Jews being denied boarding because some bigoted Captain wants to punish them for “the death of our Lord and Saviour”?? Black passengers being thrown off flights because some KKK pilot thinks they might assault other passengers? Can passengers with too many tattoos be removed because the pilot is offended by their looks? Left-handed passengers? Disabled passengers? Where does it stop?

    I hope this pilot gets the sack. We don’t need this kind of bigot in charge of the safety and welfare of hundreds of people.

  3. Islamophobia is a bit of an oxoron, because any fear of such an intolerant religion is totally justified. That being said, the vast majority of Muslims are peaceful and tolerant, but the same cannot be said of their religion.

  4. Should have made good content for their presentation at the conference!

    More seriously, it is totally unacceptable to practice racial or religious intolerance at the workplace. Imagine the reaction if a restaurant refused to seat a someone with brown skin or a judge refused to grant discretionary orders in favor of someone because they were Jewish.

    If the facts are as stated, it’s clear to me that the Captain should, as a minimum, be sacked but the more interesting question is whether he should be prosecuted.

  5. Champ Ian,

    Before stating that “the vast majority of Muslims are peaceful and tolerant, but the same cannot be said of their religion,” you might want to crack open your history book and look at the history of Christianity.

    It appears that you have clearly forgotten about The Crusades that spanned three centuries, then after a brief period of peace began again to span another three centuries.

    Along with The Crusades, The Inquisition had one purpose, to convert or eliminate those who did not subscribe to Christianity. The Inquisition was not short lived either, as it spanned three centuries.

    If you are a Christian, might I should you refer to John 8:7 “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone”

    Happy Flying!


  6. Fish–Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that you are correct in your characterization of Christianity.

    That is a different matter than what Champ brought up. He was not extolling Christianity in his comment. He did not even mention it…

    And two wrongs don’t make a right.

    I am having trouble understanding your reply to him.

  7. Matthew ,

    Maybe I read to much into Champ Ian’s post, but I read it as he was justifying the situation by saying “because any fear of such an intolerant religion is totally justified.” Frequently it seems when people discuss the intolerance of one religion, they forget the sins of their own religion.

    Happy Flying!


  8. While I agree that facts as stated make me want to throw up, but I have become jaded enough to wounder if anything else was said by the two or by someone else to make the captain take the hard line. Not in any way a justification, but let’s say a passenger told him (lied) that they said “x-y-z” or he herd them say something that made him fear for his aircraft or the passengers under his watch. Again, it sounds just like an intolerant act but I would love to know “the rest of the story”!

    Be quick to listen and slow to form an opinion.

  9. I’ll take the devils advocate position on this one. And experienced Delta pilot has thousands of Muslims on his flights every single day. This is not a strange occurence on a Delta flight having Muslims onboard.

    The reason we give pilots ultimate authority is so they have ultimate authority. If he was spooked for any reason at all, I have to respect that intuition for my safety.

    I’m sorry the gentlemen were inconvenienced and an apology was in order, but the ultimate authority of who flies on my flight is properly with a pilot. I’ll follow the professional pilots “gut instinct” every single time.

  10. Reminds me of the 1993 incident where 6 black secret service agents were denied service at an Annapolis Denny’s while other tables of guests who arrived later were served promptly. That resulted in a Justice Department investigation and a consent agreement from Denny’s corporate that involved training and, if I remember correctly, revocation of Denny’s franchise from repeat offenders.

    I wonder if that same path might be followed by Justice or Transportation and go after the regional or Delta.

  11. Bigotry is a fact of life. We will always be worried about those who look and act different from us. The history of Christianity is replete with bloody wars started in the name of god. Currently, the impression is that Islam is religion of terrorists.

    People feel apprehensive about others, the question is how respond to those feelings. The people that embrace those feelings are hateful. The problem is we as a society have told ourselves that are fears are irrational and that they shouldn’t be discussed. THAT”s the problem, you can only combat intolerance though education. But you have to have the discussion.

  12. Islam is fundamentally a religion of hate and lies, sadly. Sura 9:5, hundreds of verses in the Holy Q’uran, and its related “Hadith” or interpretations of the religious and legal system known as Islam is all about the elimination of non-Muslims. Those who leave Islam are to be killed. The prophet himself was responsible for over 1000 people beheaded at one time. One of his wives was 9 years old. This isn’t new; the intent is a centralized caliphate for world domination of Islam.
    There is no bigotry or racism here; the pilot understood Islam’s tenets perfectly well. It’s the vast majority of ignorant Americans who don’t understand that Islam preaches “Al Taqiyya” – lying to infidels to further the ends of Islam. Pilot, I salute you.

  13. I’m guessing here because I did not witness this event and I do not have any first-hand knowledge of the facts as t hey actually occured, but here goes:
    1. The ASA Captain was ‘probably’ racially or culturally motivated.
    2. The ASA Captain was ‘probably’ in error.
    3. The ASA Captain’s flight WAS safely completed.

    The law of the land gives our airplane Captains the ABSOLUTE, unqualified authority to determine what and who will fly on their airplanes, as well as the ABSOLUTE responsibility for safe completion of each flight. While the Captain in this case ‘probably’ abused his authority, I refuse to question his judgment at the time a flight is pending or in progress. If said Captain needs some remedial training after the fact, so be it. With operations in progress and a plane load of passengers already aboard the aircraft, the Captain’s decision is FINAL. There is no appeal and there should have been no discussion when he returned to the gate. If the Captain’s decision was extremely annoying to ASA, the flight may turn out to be the Captain’s last with that airline. Still, with flight operations already in progress, the Captian’s order is absolute.
    This is in some ways very much like our (US) First Ammendment dealing with freedom of speech. I may not like what you have to say, but I will defend to the death your absolute right to say it. Enough said…

  14. Cedarglen,

    I stated the Captain’s right was absolute. At the time if the incident the Captain’s authority could not be overruled by the ground staff, the airline or anyone, the Captain was in command, the aircraft was his ship, his command is the final word.

    That said…the Captain will end up needing to answer to ASA for his decision. The airline will require him to justify his actions internally and should they not be satisfied with his judgement call they can find him unfit to be Captain and demote him to first officer or choose to relieve him of his command entirely and terminate him.

    Yes, the unions may go to bat for the Captain, that is what they are there for … but in a case like this they may go to bat for him while attempting to distance themselves from the blow back at the same time.

    Happy Flying!


  15. @Peter Anderson

    “If your own full brother, or your son or daughter, or your beloved wife, or you intimate friend, entices you secretly to serve other gods, whom you and your fathers have not known, gods of any other nations, near at hand or far away, from one end of the earth to the other: do not yield to him or listen to him, nor look with pity upon him, to spare or shield him, but kill him.”

    The Q’arran? No Deuteronomy 13

    Kinda sounds like the elimination of non Judeo-Christians to me.

    While we’re on the topic:
    Leviticus 20:13
    Leviticus 20:27
    Leviticus 20:9
    Leviticus 20:10 Oh, who are we kidding, pretty much all of Leviticus
    Exodus 21:15
    Exodus 22:19
    Zechariah 13:3
    Deuteronomy 22:20-21
    Deuteronomy 17:2-5
    Romans 1:24-32
    And on, and on, and on

    I understand other religion’s tenants very well and let me tell you, it’s not Muslims that I’m afraid of, it’s Christian and Jewish Americans who presume to “protect” us from them.

  16. Ger,

    Not to spark another debate here … but as a Jewish American, I have no fear of Islam, or Muslims, or any other religion for that matter. My fear is of people and how people treat other people. This fear cannot ever be placed on a collective of people based on religion, race, nationality because as a society we are diverse and painting everyone with the same brush … well that is how we keep ending up with the cycle of hate and violence.

    On a side note, as a Jewish guy from New York, one of my previous clients has been the Kuwait Ministry of Awqaf and Islamic Affairs, and very much practice what I preach when it comes to judging people on who they are not what they are.

    Happy Flying!


  17. Hi Fish,

    As a (culturally) Jewish Canadian, my comment wasn’t an indictment of individuals or even those religions per se as much as it was concern at seeing the American view that anything non-white/American/Judeo-Christian is bad and should be punished. I’ve travelled a bit (though not as much as you,) and even France and England at their most immigration paranoid can’t compare to a guy like Peter holding up a bible. The fact remains that Judeo-Christian scriptures are as violent, racist, and intolerant as any other others out there. You and I and presumably Peter don’t go around stoning adulterers or killing those who serve other gods, yet Peter thinks that it’s okay to act as though these two men would blow up their plane because the look different. That’s just on-it’s-face racist.

  18. I note that the pilot has not had the courage to face a news camera and explain his decision.

  19. I think I would have been afraid to fly…with that captain. If he’s going to make a spot judgment about people by their appearance alone (and not trust TSA checks, airport security, etc.) then I don’t think I feel safe flying with him. Who knows what else he’ll do with that kind of logic or gut feeling. It also makes me very happy that I live in a city and my neighborhood is full of people who speak a different language and dress differently than I do – because I’ve never been automatically afraid/concerned/whatever when confronted by people who aren’t like me superficially.

    I also am tired of having people tell me of the evils of Islam and the Koran, such that I bought a copy and am reading it. Because I come from a background of reading and discussing ideas, not from burning books or dismissing a religion or culture simply because a segment of people have decided that X is evil or that no one should trust people who believe Z. That’s all directed @Peter Anderson, and Ger listed all the OT stuff (and more) I would have mentioned. Many religions have texts you can cherry pick that aren’t representative of the beliefs of the whole.

    Meanwhile thanks for the blog, flyingfish – I didn’t catch in the media that covered this story that the gentlemen were going to a conference on Islamophobia.

  20. @Ingy

    This was not a “Delta captain”, this was an ASA captain who, by the very nature of the airline they fly for, probably does not have a lot of experience flying Muslims. ASA = Atlantic Southeast Airlines. They fly regional jets in the South. Unfortunately, that sounds like the right ingredients for a little down home bigotry to me.

  21. It makes sense for the captain to have the final call on who boards the flight. Its not only about racism, i would love to have the fat guy next to me who takes up 2 seats to be thrown off by the Captain.
    In this case, yes it was about racism, but don’t you all wish the Captains flying those 4 ill-fated aircraft on 9/11 were also racist and removed the extremists.
    Tough luck for these 2 passengers, shit happens. Im sure they were compensated well enuf.


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