CHICAGO – A Muslim chaplain at Northwestern University said Wednesday that she wants United Airlines to make a public statement acknowledging she faced discriminatory treatment on a flight after asking for an unopened can of Diet Coke.
Tahera Ahmad said she was told during the Friday flight from Chicago to Washington, D.C., that she was not allowed to have an unopened can. She was wearing the Muslim headscarf known as the hijab.
The flight attendant gave another passenger an unopened beer can, Ahmad said, but told her that people weren't allowed to have unopened cans because they could be used as weapons.
"She said, 'You would use it as a weapon.' At that point I felt she crossed a line," Ahmad said. She asked other passengers if they saw what happened, and one man swore at her.
United issued a statement this week saying it "strongly supports diversity and inclusion" and that a representative has apologized to Ahmad "for not delivering the service our customers expect when traveling with us."
"The flight attendant onboard Shuttle America flight 3504 attempted several times to accommodate Ms. Ahmad's beverage request after a misunderstanding regarding a can of diet soda," the statement said.
Ahmad said that the flight attendant and the pilot apologized to her the day of the flight, but United has trivialized the incident.
"I'm disappointed in the (airline's) apology," she said. "It does not address the discrimination. It basically glosses over the entire occurrence. It says it was a misunderstanding over a can of diet soda."
Earlier this week, Northwestern University President Morton Schapiro wrote a letter to United CEO Jeff Smisek requesting a formal apology and "assurances that United will train its staff so that she and others are never again subjected to such discrimination on a United flight."
Ahmad has also gained support from the Chicago chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, which hosted a news conference about the incident Wednesday in Chicago.