The Department of Transport (DOT) has fined Delta Air Lines $50,000 over a 2016 incident in which two Muslim passengers were offloaded from an international flight because of their perceived “suspicious behavior”. Delta, which was also ordered to cease and desist from future incidents of discriminatory conduct, agreed to the settlement to avoid litigation that could have resulted in a much larger payout.
The DOT has also ordered the flight attendants and customer service personnel involved in the incident to undergo additional civil rights training and will require all pilots to receive improved e-learning. The Atlanta-based airline has been given nine months to check both items off its to-do list.
The couple who made the discrimination complaint against Delta Air Lines, who are only referred to as Mr and Mrs ‘X’, were thrown off a flight from Paris Charles de Gaulle to their home city of Cincinnati on July 26, 2016. Mr and Mrs X are practising Muslims and Mrs X was wearing a headscarf at the time. Flight attendants became aware of the couple when a passenger told them they were making her feel “very uncomfortable and nervous.”
The passenger had seen Mr X put something plastic into his watch and described the couple as “fidgety, nervous, and sweating.” When the flight attendant walked past Mr X, she saw him typing the word ‘Allah’ several times in a text message on his cellphone.
Flight attendants approached the Captain who in turn contacted Delta’s corporate security department – despite checks not bringing up any so-called Red Flags, the Captain ordered the couple off the plane for further vetting. A Delta red coat and a security officer spoke with the couple and after consulting with Delta’s security team in Atlanta the couple were once again given the all-clear to continue their flight.
The Captain, however, refused to accept Mr and Mrs X back on the plane with the DOT report noting that it appeared “that but for Mr and Mrs X’s perceived religion, Delta would not have removed or denied them re-boarding.”
Another 2016 incident unearthed by the subsequent DOT investigation, found a third Muslim passenger had been offloaded after alleged suspicious behavior was observed by other passengers. Again, Delta’s corporate security department didn’t find any Red Flags and despite initially allowing the passenger to fly, the Captain changed his mind when flight attendants voiced their concerns, returning to the stand to offload the passenger.
Delta disagreed with the DOT’s finding that it engaged in discriminatory conduct, with the report noting that “in both cases, Delta maintains that it acted on observations of behavior, rather than identity.”
“While Delta does not dispute that each of these two incidents could have been handled differently, Delta asserts that this fact does not necessarily lead to the conclusion that Delta acted improperly.”
The DOT said the $50,000 fine Delta has agreed to pay would act as a “strong deterrent”. Following the two incidents, Delta says it has reviewed and changed its security screening procedure and has made it more “more collaborative and objective”.
In December, Delta was named as a Best Workplace for Diversity – ranking in 58th position out of 100, Delta was the only passenger airline to make the list.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.