The creator of a popular YouTube channel said on Wednesday he was removed from a Delta flight after speaking Arabic.
Adam Saleh, 23, said he and a friend were removed from a Delta flight at Heathrow Airport in London after he spoke in Arabic to his mother on the phone and passengers complained. Saleh posted a video to social media that appeared to show his removal. The incident is still under investigation, according to Delta.
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Delta issued a statement on the incident Wednesday that said two customers were removed and rebooked after “a disturbance in the cabin resulted in more than 20 customers expressing their discomfort.” Delta has not released any of those customers’ statements to date.
The statement added, “We are taking allegations of discrimination very seriously; our culture requires treating others with respect.”
Saleh told the Guardian that the incident began when he spoke with his mom on the phone. “Usually before I take off I speak to my mom. My mom is 66 years old and she only speaks Arabic, so I was speaking to her in Arabic – it was a 30-second phone call,” he said.
Saleh said that a woman on the plane told him she was uncomfortable with his Arabic, and her companion called for Delta to “Chuck them of the f-ing plane!” Then, the captain asked to speak to Saleh outside the aircraft and Saleh started filming.
The video, posted to Twitter and Periscope, appears to show Saleh and friend, Slim Albaher, being escorted off the plane. London’s Metropolitan Police escorted Saleh and Albaher to the terminal. “They were not arrested and no offences were disclosed,” the police said in a statement.
“They kicked us off the plane because a lady, because a lot of people felt uncomfortable,” Saleh said. “Delta Air Lines just kicked us out for speaking Arabic.”
Saleh’s social posts often show him pulling pranks. One video, posted on Saleh’s YouTube channel on Feb. 9, shows Saleh on a plane as he appears to joke with his travel companion on “what would ever happen” if they counted down from 10 in Arabic, “as a social experiment.” The video then shows Saleh counting down in Arabic, then amicably chatting with a fellow passenger as the flight continues.
But Saleh defended his experience on Wednesday. He told the Guardian the videos are authentic and that he plans to share more footage from the incident.
“You can exactly see in the video a person sticking a middle finger up at the back, you see a guy defending us. The captain was quiet when I said what had happened,” Saleh said. “We wouldn’t be here joking around.”
The flight, which was scheduled to land in New York, was delayed by 53 minutes.
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