Thousands are calling for a major boycott after Delta Airlines' alleged discrimination against an Arabic-speaking passenger this week, an effort aided by the passenger's extensive social media presence. Muslim Youtuber Adam Saleh posted a series of tweets and videos documenting his forced exit from a plane traveling between London and New York. Delta responded to the incident and ensuing social media attention with a statement Wednesday morning:
Two customers were removed from this flight and later rebooked after a disturbance in the cabin resulted in more than 20 customers expressing their discomfort. We’re conducting a full review to understand what transpired. We are taking allegations of discrimination very seriously; our culture requires treating others with respect.
According to Saleh, his expulsion from the plane was caused by the discomfort of passengers around him, which was later corroborated by Delta's statement. He told CBSN that he was speaking to his mother in Arabic, as he does every time he flies, when a passenger in front of him told him he should speak English because his speaking Arabic made her feel uncomfortable.
Saleh said another passenger came to his aid before the female complainant's traveling companion allegedly began to yell at him. Saleh's video of the incident shows him being escorted off the plane — in the video, some passengers appear distressed about the incident as Saleh draws attention to the alleged racial profiling of his removal, while others appear to be happily waving and shouting goodbye.
Saleh has popular Youtube and Twitter pages, primarily focusing on his experience as a Muslim-American and frequent international traveler. When Saleh tweeted his live videos of the incident and call to boycott the airline, they went completely viral in just a matter of hours. Many commentators who have already supported Saleh online referenced other recent news stories about alleged racism on Delta flights, like an incident in October in which a black female doctor was prevented from helping an emergent patient inflight.
Skeptics are pointing to Saleh's history of hoax and prank videos to undermine his claims of discrimination, but thousands have also reached out in support. In the tense post-election racial climate, accusations of racism and terrorism have already escalated the online dialogue to a fever pitch in the few hours since the incident occurred.