Northwestern chaplain claims discrimination on United flight

CHICAGO, IL -- A Northwestern University chaplain claims she was discriminated against based on her religion on a recent United Airlines flight. The incident left her in tears.

On Friday, Tahera Ahmad was on a plane from Chicago to Washington, D.C., to promote peaceful talks between Israelis and Palestinians.

She is a Muslim chaplain and the director of Interfaith Engagement at Northwestern in Evanston.

Ahmad also wears a headscarf and said when the flight attendant came by to offer her a drink she asked for an unopened can of Coke, for hygienic reasons. She was then told that United's policy does not allow giving unopened cans to passengers. Then, she said, the opened can that had already been given to her was taken away, with the words "No Coke for you."

Ahmad said shortly after that, the passenger sitting next to her received a closed can of beer. And that is when she questioned the flight attendant about the double standard. The response left her in shock.

"She said it's against our policy to give people unopened beverage cans because it could be used as a weapon," Ahmad said. "And so I said, 'Clearly you're discriminating against me because you're giving the man sitting next to me an unopened beverage can.' So she looked at that, picked it up, opened the can, put it back and as she was putting it back she said, 'It's because you would use it as a weapon.'"

Ahmad says the flight attendant later apologized, as did the pilot. Meanwhile, United released a statement which reads in part: "The inflight crew met with Ms. Ahmad after the flight arrived in Washington to provide assistance and further discuss the matter. Additionally, we spoke with Ms. Ahmad yesterday to get a better understanding of what occurred and to apologize for not delivering the service our customers expect."

Ahmad said she's not satisfied with the response because the airline did not acknowledge that any discrimination took place, choosing instead to frame it as a misunderstanding over a beverage.
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