First of all, I know how touchy talking about religion and race can be. But, I assure you, what I’m about to discuss comes from a place of getting to the truth and not discrimination.
From the moment the news story broke, the claim brought forth by Tahera Ahmad, a Muslim American chaplain at Northwestern University, about a United Flight Attendant (who was actually a Shuttle America flight attendant working a United Express Flight) struck me as odd. Why wouldn’t a flight attendant give anyone a full can of soda? The excuse Ahmad claims she was handed by the flight attendant was that passengers “may use it as a weapon.” That’s something I’ve never heard a flight attendant say. In fact… what?!
Passengers can buy a drink in the airport terminal, post security, and are allowed to keep the unopened can or bottle and board the plane with it. If you buy a beer on board, you get the full can. There’s no way the flight attendant said those words. I also don’t believe that the passengers around her chimed in saying:
“You Muslim, you need to shut the … up,” and said that “You know you would use it as a weapon.”
What flight have you been on where this has happened? Wouldn’t a riot have broken out between passengers? This news story would have unfolded differently. Faced with the news and social media running with this one side of the story, United responded quickly saying “Flight attendant who denied unopened soda can to Muslim will no longer serve United customers” and apologized. But, can you read between the lines? No? What if I told you that the flight attendant “no longer serving” is actually, still employed? Would that lead you to believe the airline knows she did nothing wrong? Keep reading!
As you know there’s three sides to every story– and here’s the second and third. I did my research and spoke to persons close to the matter within the industry and quickly obtained more facts.
A member on FlyerTalk.com, an online community of frequently flyers, was on board this eventful flight. They weren’t involved in the situation but watched it unfold from across the aisle and posted his/her side of the story.
Ahh, now the plot thickens. A completely different point of view on what’s happened and a view which sounds a bit more realistic.
Could this whole situation be one big misinterpretation and misunderstanding?
The commonality between both stories is the that the flight attendant did not provide Amhad with a can of Coke Zero. And there’s probably a valid reason for that. Speaking with flight attendants from Shuttle America, there are only 4 cans of Coke Zero per beverage cart on the flight in question. So, the flight attendant may not have been able to give Amhad a full, unopened can because one didn’t exist if the flight attendant had already used her supply. Now, Amhad may have perceived her not receiving the full can as some form of discrimination after seeing another passenger get a full can of beer, but may not have been fully aware of the facts behind why she wasn’t provided a full can of Coke Zero.
With that said, we also know that what the passenger posted regarding the can of Diet Coke being delivered to Amhad first holds some weight. This is further supported by the fact that United Airlines and Shuttle America initially characterized this situation as a “misunderstanding regarding a can of diet soda;” a statement that Ahmad and others pilloried on social media as trivializing. Were the trivializing it or just stating the truth? If she received a can of diet soda (unopened or not) but couldn’t get a can of Coke Zero, was the flight attendant actually discriminating against her or was she simply out of stock?
It’s no secret that airlines are quick to fire flight attendants over customer service situations. Bad press is something no airline wants, especially press that associates their brand with discrimination and bad customer service. But, let’s say for a second that Amhad’s story is true and other passengers on the plane substantiated what happened, the flight attendant would surely be terminated. That’s uncalled for, unprofessional and honestly sickening. But read the statement from United and the headlines closely: “Flight attendant who denied unopened soda can to Muslim will no longer serve United customers”, “Flight Attendant Who Refused Muslim Woman Soda Will ‘No Longer Serve”, “United says it will no longer use flight attendant who denied Muslim woman unopened soda can.” Nothing says the flight attendant was ‘fired’ it says, she won’t serve United customers.
Republic Airways Holdings operates Shuttle America and Republic Airlines. Those two carriers operate shorter, regional flights for United, Delta, American and US Airways. Now wait a minute. Why would Shuttle America keep someone employed and reassign them to another one of their airline partners if they’re known to discriminate? Why didn’t United press for her termination? They’re very quick to do so usually, remember the 13 flight attendants they fired in one clean sweep? This doesn’t make sense. Unless.. they know Amhad’s story isn’t true.
Through the investigation into this matter airline officials have had to check the validity of the post on FlyerTalk, and can do so various ways (i.e. the passengers seat assignment) and maybe discovered that things didn’t unfold on board as first thought. But why haven’t we heard about it? Why hasn’t United or Shuttle America stepped up and said (a few days later, mind you): “Wait a minute! Our flight attendant may not be wholly at fault!” Because that would create a worse PR nightmare than what initially transpired. It would look disrespectful and unsympathetic.
So, without the public cleansing of her name (which thankfully was kept quiet unlike Ericka’s) this flight attendant gets to keep her job. She’s obviously been reassigned away from the United brand to appease those who were upset, but she’s still flying. However, a lot of Shuttle America’s crew bases are “airline brand” specific, so she must now commute to/from work because of a can of Coke Zero. But sources confirm that she is being provided with full-fare round trip flights from her home to her new base.
An awfully nice perk for some who allegedly discriminates against her passengers.
Editors Update: 6/8/15 1:45am EST
Also, here’s another passenger comment about the situation (though this one hasn’t been confirmed by the article’s author) as supplied by a reader:
This article was written with facts that are public as well as with information obtained from sources close to the situation within the airline industry. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without written consent from Savvy Omnimedia & Bobby Laurie.