A Muslim family of five from Libertyville wants an apology from United Airlines after the family was removed last month from a plane at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport.
The removal came after the parents requested an additional strap for their youngest daughter’s booster seat, according to Ahmed Rehab, executive director of Chicago’s Council on American-Islamic Relations.
Rehab said the family was ordered to exit the plane for security reasons. When the mother and father repeatedly asked the flight crew why they were being removed, they were told to exit “peacefully,” return to the gate and await further instructions, Rehab said.
United Airlines said in a statement that the family was asked to leave a SkyWest flight, operating as United Express from Chicago, “because of concerns about their child’s safety seat, which did not comply with federal safety regulations.”
But according to Rehab, when the parents tried to check the seat inside the airport, a United attendant said the computer system was down and instructed them to bring the seat onboard.
As the family settled into seats near the back of the plane, the parents made sure their son and older daughter were buckled in and attempted to secure their younger daughter in her booster seat, Rehab said.
According to Rehab, when the father asked a flight attendant if there was an extra strap for the booster seat, as advertised on the airline’s website, the flight attendant said she didn’t know what he was talking about and walked away.
Moments later another attendant came by and told the parents they couldn’t have the booster seat. They removed the seat and eventually the pilot asked the family to leave the plane. Before disembarking, the mother, who wears an Islamic headscarf, asked the pilot if the family’s removal was a “discriminatory decision.” The parents then left the flight with their children so as to not further frighten their children or inconvenience the other passengers, Rehab said. He said they felt singled out and humiliated.
The mother posted a video of the interaction with the plane’s crew on Facebook, where it has been viewed over 2 million times and shared more than 38,000 times.
“Shame on you #unitedAirlines for profiling my family and me for no reason other than how we look and kicking us off the plane for ‘safety flight issues’ on our flight to DC for the kids spring break,” she posted. “My three kids are too young to have experienced this.”
Rehab said other passengers around the family joined the disruption and said, “They did nothing wrong.”
The couple and their children completed their journey on a later flight and booked their return to Chicago on a different airline. Rehab said the family has asked for a formal apology, corrective action for the employees involved and reimbursement for that return flight and accommodations they had to book to adjust their travel plans.
This is not the first time United has been accused of mistreating Muslim customers. Last May, Northwestern University chaplain Tahera Ahmad was flying from Chicago to Washington, D.C., on a United flight operated by Shuttle America when a flight attendant refused to bring her an unopened can of soda. When Ahmad pointed out that another passenger had received one, the flight attendant abruptly opened the soda and told Ahmad it was so she would not use it as a weapon.
Adopting the hashtag #UnitedforTahera, thousands tweeted messages of support and calls for a boycott after Ahmad detailed the confrontation on Facebook. The controversy ended nearly a week later with an apology from United and the company’s promise that the attendant would not work on United express flights until she had undergone more training.
The airline also said employees would continue to receive annual cultural awareness training and that it would reach out to its express partners, including SkyWest, to make sure their staff also receives regular sensitivity training.