CHICAGO – A Muslim chaplain at Northwestern University who said a flight attendant denied her an unopened can of diet soda Friday because she “may use it as a weapon” has inspired a social media campaign and threats of a boycott against United Airlines.
Tahera Ahmad, an associate chaplain and the director of interfaith engagement at Northwestern, was flying from Chicago to Washington, D.C., when the flight attendant brought her an opened can of Diet Coke. According to her Facebook posts, when Ahmad tried to send it back and requested an unopened can for sanitary reasons, the flight attendant declined, saying the airline didn’t serve unopened beverages.
Ahmad, according to her posts, pointed out another passenger’s unopened beer and accused the crew member of discrimination because she was wearing a headscarf. The flight attendant then abruptly opened the other passenger’s beer, according to the posts, while another passenger leaned across the aisle and, using profanity, told Ahmad to be quiet.
A spokesman for United Airlines said Sunday that the flight attendant for Shuttle America, the carrier that provides United’s shuttle service between Chicago and Washington D.C., “attempted several times to accommodate Ms. Ahmad’s beverage request after a misunderstanding regarding a can of diet soda.”
“The inflight crew met with Ms. Ahmad after the flight arrived in Washington to provide assistance and further discuss the matter,” spokesman Charles Hobart said. “Additionally, we spoke with Ms. Ahmad … to get a better understanding of what occurred and to apologize for not delivering the service our customers expect when traveling with us.”
By Sunday afternoon, the hashtag #UnitedforTahera had been shared nearly 20,000 times with calls for boycotts and a public apology from the airline.
Ahmad, who didn’t respond to requests for comment, said in her rejoinder on Facebook that she bemoaned the airline’s failure to apologize in writing and acknowledge the possibility of discrimination.
“I was really hoping that after speaking with me they would have publicly acknowledged their lack of consistency in following procedure, the flight attendant’s rude and (discriminatory) behavior and accusations which led to hateful words and … created an unsafe space for me,” she said.
“Unfortunately,” she said on Facebook, “United has dismissed my entire narrative and trivialized it to a can of soda.”