Delta Air Lines says it's investigating a claim from an Ohio Muslim that alleges they were removed from a flight after an airline employee said the couple’s presence made her uncomfortable.
Faisal and Nazia Ali are U.S. citizens originally from Pakistan. In July, the couple flew to London, and then Paris, to celebrate their 10 year wedding anniversary.
On July 26, the couple boarded a return flight home at Paris’ Charles De Gaulle. They faced no issues during the boarding process but after the couple was seated, Nazia Ali said, their ordeal began.
"We had been in our seats for 45 minutes," she told reporters Thursday from the Cincinnati area office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. "The ground agent said, `Can you step out with me? We'd like to ask you a few questions.' So I said, `Do you want us to get our things?' And he said, `Yes, please grab all of your personal belongings. You're not going to be on this flight.' "
During the boarding process, a crew member on the flight had complained to the pilot that she was uncomfortable with the Muslim couple seated in the second row of economy class, reports the Cincinnati Enquirer. The woman was wearing a head scarf and using a phone, and the man was sweating and said the word “Allah,” the flight attendant allegedly told the pilot.
The pilot contacted the ground crew and said he would not depart until couple was removed from the plane.
Once the couple was escorted from the flight, they were questioned in a "rough manner" by a French security official.
"It was humiliating. We were treated like criminals. I thought, `We are American citizens. You can't do this to us.' " Nadia Ali said.
After being released, the Alis were rebooked on an another Delta flight departing the following day. The airline paid for a room that night at a hotel near the airport and says the company will issue a full refund of the couple's airfare for the July 26 flight from Paris to Cincinnati.
In the wake of the incident, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-Cincinnati) is calling on the government and major carriers to evaluate circumcstances under which airline officials can legally remove passengers from flights.
"We call on the U.S. Department of Transportation to conduct a thorough examination into the prevailing practices of major American air carriers, including Delta Air Lines, and to develop policy guidelines on the objective factors that are to be considered when determining that a passenger may legally be removed from a flight," CAIR-Cincinnati attorney Sana Hassan said.
Delta did not say whether it would revise its own policies but issued a statement Thursday saying it will continue to investigate the Ali’s claim of racial profiling:
"Delta condemns discrimination toward our customers in regards to age, race, nationality, religion, sexual orientation or gender. As a global airline that brings hundreds of thousands of people together every day, Delta is deeply committed to treating all of our customers with respect. Delta continues its investigation into this matter and will issue a full refund of these customers’ airfare."
The couple hope their case will bring awareness to what they say is a growing problem among Muslims of being discriminated against on flights-- and bring about some industry change.
Said Nazia Ali, "I want people to be educated. This was an international flight crew. They should be more educated than to make assumptions based on appearance."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.