United Fires Flight Attendant Who Denied Muslim Flier A Can Of Coke

Photo via Facebook
Update: In a statement posted Wednesday on United's website, the airline apologized to the young Muslim woman who was denied a can of Diet Coke — in fear she'd used it "as a weapon."

"United does not tolerate behavior that is discriminatory — or that appears to be discriminatory — against our customers or employees," they write. The statement also notes that the flight wasn't operated by United, but by a smaller airline it operates, and said that the employee in question "will no longer serve United customers."

This story was originally published on May 31, 2015.

A young Muslim American woman's story of her experience on a flight this weekend has served to remind us, once more, that discrimination and hate are alive and well in this country. Tahera Ahmad, 31, is an associate chaplain at Northwestern University, and was flying on United Airlines from Chicago to Washington, D.C. on Friday for a conference about encouraging Israeli and Palestinian youth to engage in dialogue, CNN reports. And she dared to do two things: wear a hijab and ask her flight attendant to treat her like everyone else.

From the flight, she posted on Facebook about what happened: She ordered a Diet Coke was brought an opened can. When she asked the attendant for an unopened one, "due to hygienic reasons," the attendant responded, "Well I'm sorry I just can't give you an unopened can so no Diet Coke for you." Rude! Or, actually, more than rude, because the attendant then handed the man next to Ahmad an unopened can of beer, and clarified that the opening policy was, "so you don't use it as a weapon." Taken aback, Ahmad hoped her fellow passengers would bear witness to this blatant racial profiling. No such luck, as the man across the aisle yelled at her, "you Moslem, you need to shut the F** up."

Well, even those of us who haven't been racially profiled know that airplanes bring out the absolute worst in all people. And though we don't expect the Internet to be a more hospitable environment, in this case, it is. Since Ahmad's Facebook post on Friday night, her plight has gone viral, with the hashtag #UnitedforTahera. Many called for a boycott of United. It certainly helps that Tahera is not just any young woman in a head scarf, she's a leader who's visited the White House twice, to be honored for her work and to attend a Ramadan dinner with the president.

All of this caught the attention of the airline, which released a statement that's not the most apologetic we've ever seen: "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. ... Additionally, we spoke with Ms. Ahmad this afternoon to get a better understanding of what occurred and to apologize for not delivering the service our customers expect when traveling with us."

You can read Ahmad's none-too-happy response to making this all about the soda here. We've reached out to the airline for further comment and will update this story with any additional information.
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