Delta Fined $50,000 for Ordering Muslim Passengers Off Planes Despite Their Clearance to Fly

In two separate incidents during 2016, three Muslim passengers were removed from their respective flights

Delta airplane
Photo: Nicolas Economou/NurPhoto via Getty

Delta Air Lines is facing a major fine for discriminating against its passengers, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.

In a consent order released on Friday, the airline was fined $50,000 in violation of anti-bias laws after removing three Muslim passengers from their respective flights in 2016. The federal department also ordered Delta to provide cultural-sensitivity training to all cabin crew members and customer service staff involved in the cases.

As cited in the document, a Muslim couple were removed from their flight from Paris, France to Cincinnati, Ohio on July 26, 2016 when another passenger made a complaint about the man and the woman — who was wearing a head scarf at the time. The document said the passenger told Delta staff that the couple was “fidgety, nervous, and sweating” and the man had “inserted something plastic into his watch,” making her “very uncomfortable and nervous.”

A cabin crew member also claimed she saw the man using the word “Allah” several times in a text when she walked through the cabin, the document said. Another flight attendant alleged that the man changed his phone screen when she passed in the cabin.

Though Delta’s own corporate security concluded that they were U.S. citizens, raised “no red flags” and were cleared to fly after interviewing the man and the woman off the aircraft, the captain refused to let them re-board the plane, according to the consent order. The couple was rebooked to a flight on the following day.

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, the captain “failed to follow Delta’s required security protocol” prior to removing the couple and that it appeared the man and the woman would have been allowed to fly if not for their “perceived religion.”

The department also cited an incident that occurred July 31, 2016 as an example of discriminatory conduct in the consent order.

In that case, a Muslim man was removed from his flight from Amsterdam to New York after passengers and flight attendants complained to the captain about his behavior, according to the document. Passengers alleged they saw the man speaking “with a person of similar ethnicity in the gate area” and crew members said they observed him making “significant eye contact,” the order read.

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The captain, who was told by Delta’s security office that the man was cleared to fly, initially proceeded with the flight plan, but returned to the gate and had the man removed and his flight rebooked, according to the consent order. The Department of Transportation said that because the man was not subjected to additional screening before boarding his new flight, his removal from the initial flight was deemed discriminatory.

Delta denied any wrongdoing in its response, though the company said in the consent order that it does not dispute that each of the two incidents could have been handled differently. In the document, the airline asserted in that it acted upon observations of behavior — rather than identity — of the passengers in their removal.

In a statement released Friday, Delta told PEOPLE: “As a global airline serving over 300 destinations around the world, it is our goal to model inclusion. We are built on a culture that treats all customers – regardless of race, ethnicity, or religious affiliation – with dignity and respect. Unlawful discrimination of any kind is not tolerated. Our commitment in this area is unwavering.

“While we understand that our best customer service was not reflected in how the incident was handled, we disagree with the Department of Transportation’s contention that Delta engaged in discriminatory conduct. For that reason, we have worked to improve our investigative process since these incidents and we have supporting programs, policies, training and procedures that back up our commitments in this area.”

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