The US Department of Transportation issued a release on Friday which revealed Delta Air Lines had been charged $50,000 in civil penalties and ordered to ensure “certain Delta flight and cabin crews and customer service representatives” undergo civil rights training following two incidents involving Muslim passengers in 2016.
The department’s first investigation came about following a discrimination complaint filed regarding Delta Flight 229 out of Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris, France, to Cincinatti, Ohio, on July 26, 2016. According to the consent order, while the plane was still on the ground, a passenger on the plane alerted a flight attendant about two fellow travelers - a man and a woman wearing a headscarf - that made them “very uncomfortable and nervous.” The passenger claimed the man had “inserted something plastic into his watch” and said both were “fidgety, nervous, and sweating.” The same flight attendant informed the plane’s captain that they observed the man using the word “Allah” several times in a text message to someone via his cellphone.
Soon after, the captain contacted Delta Corporate Security and was informed that the couple, identified in an August 2016 Washington Post article as Nazia and Faisal Ali, were US citizens returning home from a trip to Europe and had “no red flags.” Nevertheless, the Alis were taken off the plane at the captain’s request and ordered to undergo additional vetting, despite having passed through previous security screenings.
The officer who interviewed the couple ultimately cleared them for travel and described the duo as “not having an aggressive attitude, but more of a stressed one and incomprehension on their part.” While the Alis were granted approval to return to their flight, the captain refused to allow the couple back on his plane, citing flight attendants’ discomfort. The Alis would have to wait until the following day to get on a flight back to the US. The Transportation Department determined that the couple’s “perceived religion” influenced the Delta employees’ conduct and actions toward the Alis on Flight 229.
The second investigation was launched following a review of Delta passenger complaints between June 30, 2016, and June 30, 2018. It was found that a Muslim passenger, identified as “Mr. A” in the consent order, was also subjected to discrimination - just five days after the Alis - on Flight 49 out of Amsterdam Schiphol Airport to New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport on July 31, 2016.
The Delta flight crew alleged that several passengers reported that they saw Mr. A making “significant eye contact” with a person of similar ethnicity before speaking with them and receiving a small package that he later took with him onto the aircraft. Flight attendants on the plane recounted that Mr. A moved to a window seat and constantly peered outside while appearing to sweat. While the flight attendants communicated these details to the captain, the plane eventually pulled away from the gate after Delta Corporate Security said Mr. A had “no red flags” and a security officer’s on-board assessment of the individual concluded that there was nothing out of the ordinary about Mr. A.
However, the plane returned to the gate after the flight attendants reiterated their discomfort with Mr. A being on the flight. The traveler was then removed from the plane and booked on a later flight. The Transportation Department concluded that this incident was “discriminatory,” as Mr. A had already been cleared to fly and Delta security protocol was not followed pertaining to his removal and rebooking.
The consent order noted that Delta denied that it “engaged in discriminatory conduct,” but also admitted that the incidents could have been handled differently.
Nevertheless, the major airliner has been fined $50,000 and ordered to have select employees undergo civil rights training. The Transportation Department also called for the carrier to “enhance its e-training civil rights program.”