A Muslim family of five from Libertyville, Ill., wants an apology from United Airlines for being removed from a plane at O’Hare International Airport last month.
The family’s removal came after they asked for an additional strap for their youngest daughter’s booster seat, said Ahmed Rehab, executive director of Chicago’s Council on American-Islamic Relations.
Rehab said the family was ordered to leave the plane for security reasons. When the mother and father repeatedly asked the flight crew why they were being removed, they were told to leave “peacefully,” return to the gate and await further instructions, Rehab said.
United Airlines said in a statement that the family was removed from a Sky West flight, operating as United Express from Chicago, “because of concerns about their child’s safety seat, which did not comply with federal safety regulations.”
But Rehab said that when the family tried to check the seat inside the airport, a United attendant said the computer system was down and instructed them to take& the seat aboard.
As the family settled into their seats near the back of the plane, the parents made sure their son and older daughter were buckled in and attempted to secure their younger daughter into her booster seat, Rehab said.
According to Rehab, when the father asked a flight attendant if there was an extra strap for the booster seat, as advertised on the airline’s website, the flight attendant said she didn’t know what he was talking about and walked away.
Moments later another attendant came by and told the family they couldn’t have the booster seat. They removed the seat and eventually the pilot asked the family to leave the plane. Before leaving, the mother, who wears a head scarf, asked the pilot if the family’s removal was a “discriminatory decision.” The family then left the plane so as to not further frighten their children or inconvenience the other passengers, Rehab said. He said they felt singled out and humiliated.
The family completed their journey on a later flight and booked their return to Chicago on a different airline. Rehab said the family has asked for an apology, corrective action for the employees involved and reimbursement for that return flight and accommodations they had to book to adjust their travel plans.
The incident was the second for which United has been accused of mistreating Muslim customers. Last May, Northwestern University chaplain Tahera Ahmad was flying from Chicago to Washington on a United flight operated by Shuttle America when a flight attendant refused to bring her an unopened can of soda. When Ahmad pointed out that another passenger had received one, the flight attendant abruptly opened the soda and told Ahmad it was so she would not use it as a weapon.